Spiritual Selfies: The Bible

Spiritual SelfiesThis is the second post in a series about how we Christians twist Christianity towards ourselves.

If you grew up in the western world, you are more inclined to think the world is about you as an individual, probably more so than any other culture on Earth thus far. Our rabid individualism knows no bounds and our disease hungers to increase its territory. When someone living in this milieu becomes a Christian and now submits to how the Bible teaches us to live, we should expect some problems with confronting our formerly self-obsessed selves. This is hard, though, because it’s like describing water to a fish. It’s all around us and has become invisible. Continue reading

Philemon: Common Unity

Philemon: Common Unity

Paul’s letter to Philemon is the story of vulnerability, sacrifice and mercy played out in community. I was able to preach through this book and decided to look at it from three different perspectives, the perspectives of the characters in this story: Onesimus, Philemon and Paul.

It’s almost like the parable of the prodigal son in real life. Onesimus was Philemon’s slave. The situation was such that Onesimus wanted to run away from his master, and stole from him as we went. Onesimus eventually ran into Paul in a different city and Paul sends Onesimus back to Philemon with a letter. This letter says that Philemon ought to free and forgive Onesimus. Paul is concerned with these two reconciling and rightly living out God’s community on earth.

In the story of Onesimus we learn about vulnerability (download):


In the story of Philemon we learn about sacrifice (download):


In the story of Paul we learn about mercy (download):

God’s Greatness Demands Our True Worship

Some weeks ago I gave a sermon on Malachi 1:1-11.

I saw the text focus on three areas of God’s greatness, His love, His fatherhood, and His plan of redemption.

I feel that Malachi is so very relevant to us today because of his style: he is attempting to shock his audience out of their apathetic stupor. The original audience needed a shock and so do we. We can easily assume God’s blessings and act like grown up spoiled kids when things don’t go our way. Unlike the shock-jocks that used to be so popular on the radio (maybe when radio was more popular), Malachi’s outrageous statements are not to be an end in themselves; there is a point to it all: to bring us back to hope. As I say in the sermon, he holds a gun to our heads, not to kill us, but to bring us to life.

The problem with us worshiping God is that we can’t actually do it. By the mere fact of God being God, we will never measure up to the standards that are present. Which is why we need One to lead us in true worship. We are in need of Someone to show us how and to enable us to worship.

Here’s the audio:

Download this sermon

Accordance English Bible Demo

I forgot to post this earlier, but the wonderful people at Oak Tree Software, makers of Accordance, wanted to use some of my music from my full length, the green fuse, as a soundtrack to their latest demo video. The voice-over sounds like John Hodgman (of the I’m a Mac, I’m a PC commercials), but it’s not. I’ve done some work for Accordance before, helping to tag the Greek text to the ESV, and I use the application every time I need to do some deeper biblical study.  Accordance is pretty much the best Bible software in the whole world ever to exist ever.

And for those interested, the green fuse MP3 album is available for $5 (that’s about 30 cents a track!).

God Will Help Her When Morning Dawns

I’m in the process of writing a song that is about God being Lord of the morning, and that’s led me to do some exegesis on a few passages of Scripture, with one being Psalm 46. I’ve done some work with this psalm in the past; it was the text of my last sermon and the topic of a previous exegetical paper. I also reference this idea in the music post for 4.25.08.

In Psalm 46, speaking of the city of God, the psalmist writes in verse 5,

God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;

God will help her when morning dawns.

The “when morning dawns” part is what I’m focusing in on. Morning, for an Old Testament Israelite was a time for prayer and rejoicing and sacrifice. It was something worth longing for because with the morning comes the symbol of God’s faithful love, mercy and justice.

Psalm 59:16 puts it this way:

But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress.

One glaring thing I recognized is that without the distress, the idea of a refuge does not make sense. Without the night, the morning does not matter. It is not that strange of a thing to think of our suffering as a necessary part of our existence. It is somewhat of a strange thing to think that our darkest moments are used to define who our God is. Our disorientation gives us a picture of what re-orientation will look like.

This gives meaning to our pain. It’s very easy for me (and probably all of us) to think that our agony is in vain, that it is only a sadistic God who wants to see us squirm and that we’re all alone with our troubles. But passages like these point us elsewhere. They affirm our problems, but also direct us to something other than us: to the breaking light on the horizon, giving us a longing and comfort that God is with us, that our sufferingisn’t pointless, that one day we will be redeemed. And now, having lived through so many things that need redemption, we can more fully appreciate what that word means.

These thoughts are more fully fleshed out in Walter Brueggeman’s book, The Message of the Psalms. You can buy it here, from my Amazon store Books You Should Read:

Right relationships and diagrams

During the sermon yesterday, Curt brought up Luke 10:17-20:

The seventy-two returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

and Matthew 9:35-36:

And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.

There were some main points that I was thinking about and being convicted of.  Here are some of those thoughts.

Jesus putting us in our rightful place

Jesus putting us in our rightful place.

The disciples are maybe thinking too much of themselves in these verses.  They are excited, yes, as anyone would be, but something in them prompted Jesus to remind them of who He really is.  He is the one who threw Satan out of heaven and our supposedly great things we do are still lame and small and half-hearted.  We can’t do anything, even the slightest good thing without God moving us to do it.  By the way, that goes for any good thing from anyone, if you are a believer or not.

The right order of things

The right order of things

This brings up another point, that Jesus seeks relationships from us, not works. He doesn’t need our works, they’re just gifts he gives us for our sake.  He wants us. “Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” Don’t rejoice in what you think is an awesome thing that you did, but first rejoice in the fact that He has brought you to Him- because that is the incredible thing.

Our false idea of people

Our false idea of people

Then moving to the Matthew verses, I couldn’t help but think how the church really does believe that we are better than those who do not believe, or at least those who have outward signs of unbelief. We want to feel comfortable and those who have disease and affliction and those who are harassed and helpless aren’t good enough to hear our message of hope. As a professor of mine once said, you don’t have to have messy lives, just don’t love anybody. We want squeaky clean and sanitation. We don’t want to get on our hands and knees with the dirt and the grime because we truly think we’re better than that.
Rarely have I seen the church believe that the message of Jesus is for everyone. The message of Jesus- who He is and what He’s done is not for people who smoke, drink, curse, or hang out in bars. We believe that salvation is for those who are good. As much as we say “It’s not what you do, it’s who you know!” we actually believe and live the opposite.

Again, the right order of things

Again, the right order of things

And this is where Jesus comes to rearrange us. In these sections of Luke and Matthew, we learn the correct relationships and learn more about our Savior. It’s not us over them or even Jesus over us and them, His desire is to be with us. And them. He calls us brother. The incredible thing of the incarnation was that He became like us, lowly humans, to take us out of darkness and into morning. To create something beautiful out of our cacophony. And this is the model we are supposed to emulate. We should embrace foolishness and dirtiness, not to be foolish or dirty in themselves, but recognize that we are foolish and dirty people and Jesus had compassion on us. And those that we don’t think deserving of the message of life are diseased, afflicted, harassed and helpless, needing the hope just as much as we do.

And maybe that’s what we’re so afraid of, that we really see ourselves in the gospel-untouchables. It brings out the fact that we really don’t deserve life (because we always think we do) and that we can’t do anything to gain it (because we always think we do). And Jesus comes beside us, with all of our shortcomings and failings and calls us one of His own.

Visible Intertextuality

One of the beautiful things about the Bible is its intertextuality. Intertextuality, according to the all-knowing Wikipedia, is “the shaping of text’s meanings by other texts.” In the case of the Bible, we often say that Scripture interprets Scripture. Because of this element of God’s Word, the Bible’s books are not seen as something disconnected, but they are connected in many ways. Even though the Bible has many authors and styles and genres and books, it is still one coherent, consistent book.

Visualizing the Bible

Visualizing the Bible

This is a beautiful thing, and Chris Harrison has made it a beautiful visual thing. The title of his project is “Visualizing the Bible” and you all have to really check it out. Harrison visually links together all the cross references found in the Bible and the end result is something of information beauty. He also lays out places and names and their “social network” as well as some work with just names found in Scripture in regard to their place and prominence. Some amazing stuff. Go there now.