Judas in the Mirror (Matt 26:20-28)

When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. And while they were eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.” They were very sad and began to say to him one after the other, “Surely not I, Lord?” Jesus replied, “The one who has dipped his hand into the bowl with me will betray me. The Son of Man will go just as it is written about him. But woe to that man who betrays the Son of Man! It would be better for him if he had not been born.” Then Judas, the one who would betray him, said, “Surely not I, Rabbi?” Jesus answered, “Yes, it is you.” While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of thecovenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matt 26:20-28)

Nobody names their son Judas anymore.  Judas has become synonymous with gross betrayal and wretched sin.  As we walk closer to the events of Good Friday, I was reading this passage above and thinking about the Judas factor again.

There are many questions that swirl around in my mind whenever I think of ole Judas.  Was his betrayal predestined?  If so, is he really to blame?  Should he instead be given some credit for “faithfully” performing his unfortunate role in the redemption story in helping Jesus accomplish what he came to earth to do?  Did he “betray” Jesus or merely “hand him over” to the authorities to help Jesus fulfill his destiny?  (The Greek word can mean either “betray” or “hand over.”)  Did Judas repent?  Will he be in Heaven?  Unfortunately, the Biblical narrative isn’t interested in addressing these questions.

Instead of answering these questions today, I’m offering a couple simple reflections I had as I read the familiar story again this week. Continue reading Judas in the Mirror (Matt 26:20-28)

EPHESIANS 10: A Terminal Diagnosis

ephesians“Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else” (Eph. 2:1-3).

“Well, I’m afraid I have some bad news.” Never words we want to hear from a doctor — especially an oncologist looking over our latest test results. “I’m afraid its terminal,” is even worse.

The Apostle Paul is a trained spiritual doctor, and Ephesians is in many ways humanity’s lab results he’s now trying to explain to us. As much as we try to wish it away, or reinvent a more digestible version of Christian faith, if we are willing to trust the Bible and the Great Physician’s word, our diagnosis begins with some  devastating news. And it’s terminal. Our condition, according to this passage, was leading us to our eventual death. “What is it, doc? Cancer?” we ask. “No, even worse,” he replies. “Worse? What could possibly be worse than terminal cancer?” we protest.

“I’m afraid it’s SIN,” Dr. Paul says.

Well, in this passage he is speaking in past-tense, already celebrating the life-saving remedy he’ll spend most of the letter celebrating — and urging us to embrace and trust!

Without Christ’s regenerating Spirit at work in us, Paul would say we are dead in our sins!  We may appear to be walking, talking, raising a family and carrying on just fine in our lives, but Paul would say there’s still a core part of us that is unresponsive, comatose, dead.  We may be physically alive and well; but is that deeper part of our being — spirit, soul — alive and receptive to the things of God?  Jesus said something similar to a well-meaning but misguided religious leader in John 3: You cannot “see the kingdom of God”, that is, grasp or understand the things of God unless you are “born from above/again,” and that requires a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit.

This is extremely offensive to our self-determined egos. This pulls the rug out from under all attempts at a merely moralistic religion of good deeds, and the popular notion that God just wants us to live good, honest lives and do good to others. No, people need a heart transplant. People need to experience the “new birth.” Without a supernatural awakening whereby our fallen, fleshly nature begins to be regenerated by God’s Spirit, we are all still under the influence of the Devil, enduring the toxicity of the sin-cancer eating away our souls, and fighting the relentless pressures of the unregenerate powers of the fallen world’s systems. Continue reading EPHESIANS 10: A Terminal Diagnosis

QUOTABLES: Sermon on the Mount in Reverse

“A time is coming when those you now treat as enemies and slaves will show you nothing but love in return, when those who you curse with indifference will offer you blessing. When you slap these people on the right cheek, be prepared, for they will turn their left cheek toward you. When you steal their cloak, they will offer you their tunic.  And when you demand that they carry your possessions for one mile, they will freely carry those possessions for two. They will give freely what you demand from them, and they will not seek to gain back what you have stolen from them. They will treat you as they would long to be treated. You will judge them but they will not judge you. You will condemn them but they will not condemn you. Before leaving us he finished by saying, “These people are my message to you. Heed this message and you will live. Ignore it, and you will perish.”

-Excerpt from The Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales by Peter Rollins

EPHESIANS 9: Water Towers & Pipelines

ephesians“And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” (Eph. 1:22-23).

I live in a lake community surrounded by water. One large part of our town dwells on “the island” where you’ll find old summer cabins mixed with larger new homes all hugging the shoreline, and a confusing series of curvy, hilly roads twisting every which way. (I wasn’t friends with anyone on “the island” growing up because my parents refused to drive me there lest they get lost forever!)

I heard a tragic story a few summers back about a beautiful lake home that burned to the ground. The part of the story that jumps out at me is that apparently it was on the part of the island where the roads are so narrow that the firetrucks could not get water to it. Even more ironic and sad was that the house stood only 30 feet from one of the largest lakes in Minnesota! All that water sitting just feet away….and sadly no one was able to get the water to the burning flames.

Ephesians tells the story of how God has set into motion his own plan to rescue his creation from the flames of eternal destruction.  Christ is the Living (and fire-extinguishing) Water and the church is commissioned to be his local water towers and pipelines to pump his life-saving, life-giving presence to every home in every community. Paul describes the church as “the fullness of him who fills everything in every way” (1:23).

Most communities have several large water towers decorating the skyline, and that reservoir of water requires an underground network of pipelines whose job it is to get that water to each and every home. If the Living Water of Christ is to reach (or “fill”) all those homes and families in danger of the flames — both present fiery trials and future eternal destruction — then the church must be in the business of being conduits, or pipelines, or fire hoses, to help get the limitless reservoir of God’s saving presence to those in desperate need. That’s the only way Christ will “fill everything in every way” he desires. Every home. Every school. Every business. Every neighborhood. Every government. Every grieving heart. Christ wants to fill them all “in every way.”

Reflection: When you look around where do you see flames of affliction and people in danger of the eternal flames? Are you serving as a pipeline of God’s living, life-saving water? To whom? Your neighbors? Coworkers? Family members? 

Read previous posts in this verse-by-verse devotional study of Ephesians HERE.

Why must He suffer for our sins?

“He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again.” (Mark 8:31)

Why was it necessary for Jesus to suffer in order for our sins to be forgiven?  Tim Keller describes it best:

“When someone really wrongs you, a debt is established that has to be paid by someone. It can happen at an economic level. What if a friend of yours accidentally smashes a lamp in your apartment?  One of two things can happen as a result. Either you can make him pay — “That will be $100, please” — or you can say, “I forgive you, that’s okay.” But in the latter case what happens to that $100?  You have to pay it yourself, or you have to lose $100 worth of light and get used to a darker room. Either your friend pays the cost for what was done or you absorb the cost. This works at levels beyond the economic, too. When someone robs you of an opportunity, robs you of happiness, of reputation, or takes way something else that you’ll never get back, that creates a sense of debt.  Justice has been violated — this person owes you. Once you sense that debt, again there are only two things you can do.

One thing you can do is to try to make that person pay: You can try to destroy their opportunities or ruin their reputation; you can hope they suffer, or you can actually see to it. But there’s a big problem with that. As you’re making them pay off the debt, as you’re making them suffer because of what they did to you, you’re becoming like them. You’re becoming harder, colder; you’re becoming like the perpetrator. Evil wins. What else can you do?  The alternative is to forgive.  But there’s nothing easy about real forgiveness. When you wan to harbor vengeful thoughts, when you want so much to carry out vengeful actions but you refuse them in an effort to forgive, it hurts. When you refrain, when you forgive, it’s agony. Why?  Instead of making the other person suffer, you’re absorbing the cost yourself. You aren’t trying to get your reputation back by tearing their reputation down.  You are forgiving them and it is costing you. That’s what forgiveness is.  True forgiveness always entails suffering. Continue reading Why must He suffer for our sins?

Jehovah’s Witnesses at the Door

Door_Knockers-WEB

A repost from 2009. -JB

I had two very nice Jehovah’s Witness gals show up at my door this morning. I never quite know how to handle these encounters. I think these encounters are especially awkward for pastors/Bible teachers who are equipped to engage them in theological debate but don’t feel like that is the context (standing at the door freezing). Plus, they are usually just well-meaning laypersons who might not be able or wanting to actually be challenged themselves.  What does one do?

Do I just play dumb, hide the fact that I’m a pastor, take their pamphlets and send them on their way with a smile? Other uncertainties include: Is it appropriate to invite them inside? Can they even accept and come in? (I think Mormons are a different story here — more willing to sit down and chat.) Is it wise when they are two women and I’m a guy home alone? Of course, behind all of these questions is my own sense of obligation to evangelize and try to convert them to the “true faith.” Should I feel guilty when I miss an opportunity to “witness” back to them — even when I don’t believe door-to-door evangelism is a very effective or wise approach to personal evangelism?

QUESTION: What do you do when Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons come knocking on your door? Continue reading Jehovah’s Witnesses at the Door

Dandelions: What would Jesus Do?

Here’s a silly repost from years ago in honor of the first signs of spring. -JB

It’s time for my annual non-conformist post on lawn care. Several months back I shared my thoughts on “Why we rake and shovel.”  Today I want to raise the topic of those beautiful yellow “flowers” that are so willing to decorate our yards if we’ll only allow them safe refuge. Yes, let’s talk about dandelions. So, here’s my thoughts — and, warning, this is a tongue-in-cheek post. I’m half-serious about half these thoughts. You have to sort it out.

1. Who decided that a pure green lawn with no dandelions, no crab grass and other species of grass would be the ideal yard? Who decides such things?  Seems as arbitrary as styles of clothing that come and go: ripped jeans one day and stonewashed the next, earth tones one day and Hawaiian shirts the next. If I’m honest, and don’t let the cultural norm sway my opinion, I think dandelions are quite beautiful.  (My mom seemed to have agreed when I picked her a bouquet of them as a child — though it didn’t work this Mother’s Day as a 30 year old.)   Continue reading Dandelions: What would Jesus Do?

Recovering Obedience at the Heart of Discipleship

Radical, unquestioning obedience to God is not in vogue in the church today.  We’ve moved beyond that bossy God of the Old Testament, preferring the more gentle, easy-going Jesus who fits conveniently in our own hearts.  We prefer t-shirts that say “Jesus is my homeboy” over ones that say “Jesus is my master.”

Muslims approach God in fear and submission, while we Christians perhaps flaunt the fact that we “can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus” (Heb 10:19).  Perhaps, we should do the latter without losing a healthy dose of the former?  Instead of reorienting our lives to serve God’s interests, we prefer a God who makes it his business to serve our needs.  Just listen to the prayer requests at the next Bible Study or church service.  “Lord, heal Sue; give Jim a new job; protect our families.”

I believe there are reasons we skirt around the issue of “faithful obedience” in our culture.  Many of us have tasted the poison of the other extreme — legalism.  We fear doing things out of a sense of obligation or tradition when our hearts are not into it.  Others are reacting to the caricature of God as the drill sergeant in the sky barking commands with an angry tone.  We have left Law and discovered Grace in Jesus.

But I think at the core of this aversion to obedience in the church is a deep-seated enslavement to self, to one’s own desires, to our feelings.  It’s the perennial human weakness.  We want to call the shots, protect our life, and cling to the controls.  We resist all outside forces that would stake a claim on us — including God.

Well, while we need to guard ourselves against legalism, always let Jesus shape our image of God, and live in the grace we have in Christ, we cannot run away from the central truth that our lives are not our own.  When God calls us to himself, he calls us away from our own selves.

We buy Life Application Study Bibles that help us apply the Scripture to our lives, rather than asking God to somehow make our lives relevant to the Story of the Bible.  “How does this passage apply to my life” is one of the most self-centered questions we can possible ask of the Scriptures.  It assumes that the truth and purposes contained in God’s Word somehow revolve around us — with “me” at the center.  This me-centered approach to reading Scripture subverts a core truth the Scriptures are trying to teach us: Die to yourself, and give yourselves to some purpose beyond yourself.  Its almost as if the entire New Testament screams out, “Stop trying to apply this to your life, and instead start applying yourself to the purposes of God.”  I wish there was chapter and verse that simply said, “Get over yourself.” (Though I think many verses just about get there, e.g., Gal 2:20.)

When I read through the Bible and observe the lives of the great heroes of the faith, all characterized by radical obedience to God.  After their encounter with the living God, they all realized that they were no longer calling the shots or directing the future path of their lives.  If they once thought they were in charge, “the master of my fate, the captain of my soul”, that life was now over.

Continue reading Recovering Obedience at the Heart of Discipleship

When to Use the “S” Word

LENTEN REFLECTION SERIES

The ancient Christian season of Lent is a 40-day journey leading up to Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  Traditionally, Christians have observed this 40-day season through intentional self-examination and repentance, demonstrated by self-denial and fasting.  I would like to spend this Lent by a series of reflections on the theme of sin and repentance, including excerpts from a chapter in an unpublished book “Everyday Faith” on the topic of “Waste Management.”  I invite you to join me on this 40-day journey!   

I often avoid the “S” word.  And I’m a pastor.  The “S” word has always bothered me — not nearly as much as the “S” abiding in me and constantly ensnaring me.  Before you pick up stones or label me a heretic or a liberal, let me tell you why I often avoid using the “S” word.

911Have you ever heard someone outside the Christian subculture mention “sin” in their everyday vernacular?  I didn’t think so.  The only place you’ll hear the “S” word is within the church walls, a pastor’s sermon, a hymn, Christian book or in conversation with a fellow believer.  Now, some will immediately conclude that people just don’t want to face up to the reality of “S” in their life and in the world, and that’s why there is no talk of “S”.  But not so fast.  While many do indeed hide behind masks of self righteousness and live in constant denial “S” and the existence of God, does this therefore mean most unbelievers have no concept of the reality of “S”?

I believe the unbelieving world is all too familiar with the reality of “S” but they choose to use other words to describe it.  They might say the world is filled with brokenness and disharmony.  Things are messed up, shattered, skewed, marred, whacked and badly bent out of shape. People hurt other people.  The world is a breeding ground for inequality, oppression and all kinds of injustice. As a human race we are deeply sick and dysfunctional at the core of our being.   The “S” word carries a lot of religious baggage – both good and bad – and many simply don’t want to be associated with all of it.  I happen to be one of them.

As a communicator of the gospel and a teacher of God’s Word I believe I have a responsibility to carefully choose words that will most effectively teach the core truths of the Christian faith to my audience.  This means constantly translating the meaning of Scripture into the everyday language of the culture we are part of.  Are we being wise stewards of God’s Word if we continue to use lightning-rod, religiously loaded and culturally offensive words to speak about something so common to us all?  Should we not find more contemporary expressions of this timeless reality to more effectively get our message across to culture suspicious of religious judgmentalism?

“But ‘Sin’ is timeless, and people need to face their sin,” you may interject.  Others will retort, “Sin is supposed to be an offensive topic; it is our offense against God that we should be worried about!” True enough.  But we’re not preaching to the choir here.  We’re talking to people who deny God’s existence and who, therefore, don’t believe the most offensive thing is offending God but rather having the gaul to impose one’s religion on another.

The reason why this matters to me is that I still believe that the best place to find initial common ground with a anti-religious skeptic is to start by observing our common human condition.  We both can agree that the human race is capable of high levels of greatness, love, compassion, creativity and goodness.  Yet, we can also both clearly see that something seems to have gone seriously wrong in the world.  Abuse, injustice, oppression, genocide, slavery, etc. all bear vivid witness to the truthfulness of the Bible’s description of reality.  In short, we both believe “S” is part of the problem — even if they call it by another name.  Now I’m one step closer to sharing the Bible’s solution.

So, I rarely use the “S” word in my preaching and conversations.  But make no mistake.  I’m not a closet liberal going soft on sin.  Neither am I trying to dance cleverly around the serious reality of “S.”  I believe in sin.  I am the chief of sinners myself.  “We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  I believe that my sin separates me from God.  I believe that “He who had no sin became sin so that we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor).  I believe that Jesus paid my penalty of sin, dying on the cross to take away the sins of the world.  And, each morning I take God at his gracious promise that “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John).  Robed in the righteousness of Christ I now stand, and “as far as the east is from the west, that’s how far God has removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 102).

Now how can we BEST communicate this good news to others?

What are you giving up for Lent? (Eugene Cho)

Covenant Pastor Eugene Cho has a potent reminder for Lent:

We are now in the Lenten season and let me begin by sharing outright that Lent isn’t about you or about what you’re giving up. But we’ll get to that soon.

For those that might not be familiar with Lent, it is the 40 day period (not including Sundays) between Ash Wednesday and Holy Saturday that has traditionally been a time of preparation for those who were preparing for baptism and later expanded to include the larger Christian community.  It marks a time of prayer, penance, repentance,  humility, self-denial, and soul searching as one draws closer to the Passion of Christ and ultimately, culminating in the celebration of the Resurrection….

I appreciate the Lenten season for many and various reasons. This year, I’m choosing – along with some other things – to give up “coffee” during the Lent season. Trust me, for someone that runs a cafehas his offices in a cafe, and has access to free Stumptown coffee whenever I want, this will certainly be a “test” of self-denial.

But even after acknowledging that I  myself am “giving up” coffee during Lent, I’m ambivalent and reticent about how vogue or easy it is to give something up during Lent. Umm, especially when it’s something like chocolate, sodas, sugar, Facebook, Twitter, television, and – umm – coffee.

I don’t want to knock those who give stuff up. Not at all. Go for it. More power to you.

But I wonder if God might have these words for me (and for you if I may be so audacious):

“Umm, I didn’t ask you to give up coffee. I asked you to give up your life to me.”

Alarm Clock: Reflections on Spiritual Awakening

In the “Alarm Clock” series Jeremy offers some spiritual lessons and biblical insights from the all-too-familiar process of waking up.  This excerpt is called “Christmas Gifts & Final Exams.” Enjoy!

Six-o-clock.  The alarm has sounded.  The sun is peeking through the half-raised shade, piercing your squinting eyes as you roll over to hit the snooze bar for a third time.  It doesn’t matter where you’re from, what language you speak, or how old you are, the morning ritual is a universal experience.  Waking up is rarely easy.   Continue reading Alarm Clock: Reflections on Spiritual Awakening

Reports from the intersection of faith & everyday life.

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