Presumptive Listening: Obstacle to Understanding

It is okay to disagree with what someone says. It is not okay to disregard what they say because we attribute to them motives that we cannot possibly know. Yet this happens constantly. It has become an American pastime.

I recently wrote a column about how America’s understanding of Evangelicals is changing. Many Americans now take for granted that the term “Evangelical” is synonymous with “political conservative.” I am deeply concerned about this misunderstanding, especially when it occurs among Evangelicals themselves.

In response to that column, I received a highly critical letter. It stated: “It is telling that you complain that there are too many Muslims, Catholics (read: Hispanics), and Hindus who claim to be Evangelical. This is easy to translate. These nasty brown people are contaminating your lily-white movement.”

The letter continued: “It is also telling that, in an article about the ills of Evangelicalism, you make no mention of Donald Trump. You can no more criticize your leader than a Nazi could criticize his Führer …You are White Supremacists. You were participants in, or supporters of, the January 6 Insurrection. You have MAGA gear and white hooded sheets in your closet, or you support those who do.”

I conjecture that the anonymous author of this letter is an educated male who has reached middle-age or beyond. I base this both on internal components like vocabulary and grammar and upon years of experience in receiving signed correspondence from people who did share information about themselves.

However, I know I might be mistaken; the author could be a 20-year-old woman. The possibility of being wrong is not, however, something that seems to have occurred to the letter writer, who thinks he knows me because he presumes to know Evangelicals.

How does he know Evangelicals? Does he have coffee with them? Do they share meals? Do they do life together? Or is his knowledge derived entirely from media stereotypes? Would he be surprised to know that my friends include those “nasty brown people” he wrote about or that one of my closest life-long friends is espresso-colored?

When he calls Evangelicalism a “lily-white movement,” he is clearly being provincial. Far from being lily-white, nine of the ten countries with the largest Evangelical populations are in the Global South. The Evangelical Church is growing most rapidly in Africa. Within 30 years, if trends continue, half of the world’s Evangelicals will be Africans.

Of course, the anonymous writer could not know that I once pastored a white church in a racially mixed area of the city where we lived. After my initial interview with the board, I interviewed them. One of the questions I asked was: “If I am successful in racially integrating this church, will you be pleased?” I spent seven years, as I have described elsewhere, trying to accomplish that goal.

The letter author writes, “You can no more criticize your leader than a Nazi could criticize his Führer.” He obviously did not read the columns I wrote in 2016 and again in 2020, explaining why I would not vote for Donald Trump. Neither did he read the columns in which I called for a compassionate immigration policy or warned against the dangers of idolatrous nationalism. After such articles, I received letters similar in tone to his, but they came from the opposite end of the political spectrum.

Still, this author claims to know what is in my closet. He assumes he knows all about Evangelicals. Yet, he seems uninformed about the many Evangelicals who have stood against the very views he believes they espouse.

This is not meant to be a self-defense nor an attack on the letter writer. It is a plea to listen to what other people are saying. It is a warning not to attribute evil motives to our opponents. It is an appeal to believe that other people desire what is right and good, even when we think they are going about it in exactly the wrong way.

I also am not defending Evangelicalism, which needs a good housecleaning. Those inside the house already know that and they are the only ones in a place to do the cleaning.

(First published by Gannett.)

Posted in Christianity, relationships, Worldview and Culture | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Wide Angle: Three Possible Reasons for Life’s Trials

God had a plan to undo the consequences of the Fall, to heal and restore humanity, and that plan began with Abraham. His line would lead to the Point-of-it-All. And God would get from Abraham to that Point by what one biblical scholar1 calls “the single plan-of-God-through-Israel-for-the-world.” There was never a Plan-B.

But (and this is a huge “but”) when the covenant was established, Abraham and Sarah had no child. God’s plan and promise of a family line required Sarah, who had been infertile, to conceive. And she did. I don’t think we can imagine the joy Abraham felt. He and Sarah had a child. They named him Isaac, which means laughter. That tells us something, doesn’t it? In his later years, Abraham took great pleasure in watching his son grow up. I wonder how often he found himself chuckling at the antics of his boy. But sometimes when he looked at him, he could see a line stretching into the future, embracing the promise, blessing the earth.

And then we come to chapter 22. Plan-A, Plan-Only, “the single plan-of-God-through-Israel-for-the-world,” which depended on only one person, on Isaac, on the boy called Laughter, was put at risk. And it was God himself who was to blame.

Our passage opens with a problematic statement: “Some time later, God tested Abraham.” The KJV has, “God tempted Abraham,” and the word is often translated that way in the Old Testament. Why would God tempt his own child? Or did he test him? Is there even any difference? I think there is. The difference between a test and a temptation is found in its origin and motive. If it originates in the Satan, we consider it a temptation. If in God, then it is a test. St. James says, “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.”2

Another difference between a temptation and a test has to do with the motive behind it. A temptation is an enticement to do evil. God never entices us to do evil—Satan does. But God will sometimes give us trials for the ultimate purpose of bringing about good. Deuteronomy 8:16 captures the idea when it says “God…tested you so that in the end it might go well with you.” God cares so much about the end that he is willing to employ hardship in the present.

But even we understand the difference – God tests, and the devil tempts – the difficulty is not cleared up. Why should God need to test us? Doesn’t he already know everything about us? Doesn’t he who sees the end from the beginning know how we will fare in the test? And if he knows already, why put us through it? Here are three possible reasons.

One: though God knows how we will behave during a test, we do not. Though God knew what Abraham would do, Abraham did not. It was important for Abraham that his loyalty to God be confirmed. Whether we succeed or fail, a test helps us to know where we stand. The truth about where we are is always our friend, even when it is hard to take.

Two: the Bible hints that others are watching how we go through tests. Unbelievers are watching. St. Peter tells us that, during trials, we are “to live such lives among the pagans that…they may see your good deeds and glorify God.”3 Believers are watching. Paul says that Christians watching him go through a painful trial were encouraged to speak the word of God courageously and fearlessly.4 How you go through a difficulty may be a source of strength and assurance to struggling fellow-Christians in your family, among your friends, and in your church. And then there is the suggestion that other, more august beings may be watching. Paul speaks of rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms who see in us the manifold wisdom of God being demonstrated.5 Remember that Job’s great test was played out before a heavenly audience. St. Peter speaks of angels who long to look into things dealing with our salvation.6

Three: tests do more than just reveal what is in us. They are designed to change what is in us, to make us grow, and to develop us in the image of Christ. St. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4 that God is working in us an eternal weight of glory – not in spite of such tests, but through them: “Our…troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”7 St. Peter says that “Now, if need be, you suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith, of greater worth than gold…may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”8


               1 Wright, N.T. Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, IVP: Downers Grove, IL, 2009.

               2 James 1:13

               31 Peter 2:12

               4Phil. 1:14

               5Eph3:10

               61 Peter 1:12

               72 Cor. 4:17

               81Peter 1:6-7 (paraphrase)

Posted in Bible, Theology, Wide Angle | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Five Blessings of Genesis 12

THE LINE AND THE POINT.

Genesis 12 is one of the most important passages for understanding the Bible. It records the calling of Abraham, from whom the line begins that leads to the point – the point of it all; that leads to Jesus the Messiah.

There are five blessings in Genesis 12, which is significant because there are five curses in the previous eleven chapters of Genesis. God is putting us on notice that he intends to undo the curse, and he is going to use this man to make it so. The first blessing: “I will make you a great nation and I will bless you.” The second: “I will make your name great.” The people of Babel tried to make a name for themselves, but they succeeded only in making Babel a byword and a term of derision. Abram does not try to make a name for himself; he only tries to obey God, and so God makes a name for him.

The third blessing is in Hebrew an imperative: You will be a blessing. You see, God does not bless a man so that he can soak it in, but so that he can pass it on. Every one of God’s blessings is a call for us to bless. Our relationship to him is not guided by our small desires but by his transcendent purposes. We sometimes act like the Lord taught us to pray, “Our genie who art in a bottle.” But we don’t have a genie in a bottle; we have a Father in heaven, and he insists that we be a blessing to his other children.

“I will bless those who bless you” is the fourth blessing. And the fifth is the capstone: “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” This promise is so important that it is repeated five times in Genesis: here; in 18:18; 22:18; 26:4-8; 28:14. Through Adam all the peoples of the earth were cursed. Through Abram, they will be blessed. Abram is God’s answer – at least the beginning of God’s answer – to Adam. The first eleven chapters of Genesis pose a simple question: What is God going to do to fix things? Sin and evil and death threaten the planet. Will God do anything? And, if so, what will he do? The rest of the Bible is the answer to that question (and it’s a very long answer), but it starts right here. It starts with one man. It starts with Abram.

Now we need what film directors call a deep focus. A deep focus requires a lens that can keep an image in the foreground sharp while at the same time bringing an image in the background into focus. In the foreground we have Abram. He is about to launch out into uncertainty and change. He is an ordinary man, with family and career responsibilities, with hopes and fears. He does not know where he is going. He does not know what awaits him when he gets there. He is sometimes harried and afraid. Yet this man is the beginning of the cure of all creation.

He is the beginning of the cure because he is the beginning of a line, a very long line that we will follow throughout these posts. It runs through men of great repute, like David the king, and through women of ill repute, like Rahab the harlot. It runs through religious leaders like the high priest Joshua and through pagans like the Moabite, Ruth. It runs through forgotten people like Obed and unforgettable people like Solomon. The long line runs through a young woman – almost a child – named Mary. Then the line becomes a point: a point of contention for some, the point of no return for others, but the point of it all for us who believe. It is through him that the promise comes to fulfillment: all the nations of the earth are blessed, and creation itself will be cured.

That promise is not an empty one. If we flash forward to the end of the picture – a moving picture for us, but stationary to God – we find these stirring words from the seer of the Revelation: “I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language [Do you recognize them? These are the people of the blessing], standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”

“All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying: “Amen! Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honor and power and strength be to our God for ever and ever. Amen!”” That is the end of the story that never ends, and not one of the myriads of people who fill this final scene are extras. Each one – and may you and I be numbered among them – is the result of this promise, the recipient of the blessing of Abram.

Posted in Bible, Theology, Wide Angle | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

You Are Perfectly Positioned (for what God wants you to do next)

Viewing Time: Approximately 25 minutes

This message explores the reasons why a Christ-follower might miss the fact that God has something for them to do, why they can believe that is true, and what to do about it.

Posted in Bible, Sermons, Spiritual life | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

The Secret of Gratitude: Receiving Life as a Gift

What do Americans do for the Thanksgiving holiday? We gorge ourselves on food and then on Black Friday bargains, though we know the one is unhealthy for our bodies and the other for our bank accounts. We sit on the couch for hours watching Thanksgiving Day football, though we know that rooting for the Lions is never good for our mental health.

We do these things year in and year out at Thanksgiving, but do we give thanks? After all, that was what Abraham Lincoln had in mind when, in some of the darkest days of the Civil War, he issued his Thanksgiving Proclamation. It was for the same reason the United States Congress, amid the dark days of 1941, passed a joint resolution that declared the fourth Thursday of November would henceforth be known as Thanksgiving Day and observed as a national holiday.

Declaring a thanksgiving holiday was easier for Congress – and you know nothing is easy for Congress – than giving thanks is for us. St. Paul recognized this difficulty and located its source in a failure to relate appropriately to God: “…although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile.”

G. K. Chesterton wrote, half in jest: “The worst moment for an atheist is when he is really thankful and has no one to thank.” Never having been an atheist, I cannot know whether this is true, but I find it doubtful. I do know, however, that it is a bad moment when a believer who does have someone to thank is not thankful.

Many of us, including some who are well acquainted with suffering, feel we should be thankful. But feeling like we should be thankful is not the same thing as being thankful. Nor is giving thanks. Even unthankful people can give thanks because they think they should, or because they think doing so would be advantageous to them and not doing so would be disadvantageous.

Anyone can choose to give thanks, which is good, but no one can choose to be thankful, which is better. The former is an act; the latter is a consequence. The former is the choice of a moment; the latter is the result of a lifetime. The first requires a decision; the second depends on a set of beliefs.

It is possible to develop habits of gratitude, to be intentional about expressing thanks to people and to God. (Genuinely thankful people will do both.) But developing these habits will be difficult, perhaps even impossible, in the absence of the kinds of beliefs from which gratitude flows. Giving thanks does not make us thankful; beliefs do.

People who are routinely thankful have learned things that others do not know. They know, for example, that “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father…” They receive life and all its pleasures as a gift.

This means that they know that the goods they experience – family, friends, the bracing air of a frigid day, the warm home in which they sleep at night – are not things they deserve. They do not have an entitlement mentality. Entitled people are not thankful people.

Of course, they worked hard so that they could buy some of the things they enjoy, but they realize that the energy with which they worked was itself a gift. Life is a gift. They are a gift. And God is the giver.

Because thankful people expect the God who has been faithful to them in the past to be faithful to them in the future, they are learning to overcome anxiety—a primary obstacle to thankfulness. Because they have come to know God’s character, which is to say they have discovered what kind of person he is, they trust his care even when circumstances are difficult.

Most importantly, they know that God loves them, that God loves everyone, that God is love. At one time – and at many times – they struggled to believe this, but now they are confident of it. They feel loved and are therefore thankful, for they know that love, whenever it comes, is pure gift, and it is always coming from God.

(First published by Gannett.)

Posted in Bible, Spiritual life, Theology | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Wide Angle: You Don’t Get to Know God in an Easy Chair

Wouldn’t it be great to be called by God to an important task?  Wouldn’t it be exciting to know that the God who created the universe, the God over all gods, the Lord of all lords, was speaking to you, directing you, employing you for some great purpose? 

That is what happened to Abram.  God spoke to him, and Abram heard.  He understood he was being called to something really big, something with life-changing potential, not just for Abram, but for everyone.  That would be wonderful.

Or would it? You see, God does not call people to comfort or ease.  When he calls a person, it always means change and challenge and sacrifice.  Too many religious teachers present God as a means to an end: come to God and have the life you’ve always wanted, a self-fulfilling, comfortable, interesting life.

But nowhere in the Bible do we find God calling people by saying, “I have a no-hassle life-plan for self-fulfillment, and it has your name on it.  All I ask is that you do me the honor of signing up.”   God’s call stretches people.  Moses was called to free a nation from tyranny.  Gideon was called to fight against impossible odds. The disciples were called to self-denial.  The call of Paul was to suffer for the name of Christ.  Do you really think our call will be to a cushy job, a comfortable home and a leisurely retirement?

God’s call to Abram was to leave his country, his people and his father’s household.  Imagine packing up everything you can carry and moving to another country – say Canada – with no particular destination in mind, without a cell phone, email, or a mailing address.  Leaving home, family, friends – you will never see them again; leaving restaurants, mechanics, barbers, grocery stores.  To answer God’s call meant that Abram would have to give up his identity (his name would mean nothing where he was going), give up his citizenship, his security and his autonomy. 

This verse hits the first note of a theme will repeat throughout this long story: The theme of give, and you will receive; lose and you will find; surrender, and you will conquer.  Leave land and I will give you your own land.  Leave kin, and I will make you the father of nations.  Leave family and I will give you offspring as numerous as the sand on the seashore.

This theme cuts across the modern notion that you can know God without making sacrifices.  Perhaps Abram could have said no, could have stayed in Ur or in Haran and been comfortable (at least some for a while).  But he would not have known God.  You don’t get to know God in your easy chair; you get to know him on the road of obedience.

If that sounds like knowing God is one, long, uncompensated drudgery, I can promise you it is not so. Doing what God calls you to do is not only the fastest way, but also the only way, to live the life you were meant to live, to be the person you want to be.  By heeding God’s call, Abram becomes Abraham.  He is a new person, God’s person and so, for the first time, his own person.

Posted in Bible, Spiritual life, Theology, Wide Angle | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Wide Angle: The Line Begins

We’ve been using the image of a panoramic picture to help us in thinking about the coherence of the larger story of what God is doing in the world. But it may also be helpful to think of the biblical story the way one thinks of a movie. A movie has heroes and villains, themes and characters and plot, and the biblical story about God has all these things as well.

Another similarity: both movies and the biblical narrative have key scenes – scenes that are so important that if you miss one of them, it is hard to understand what is happening in the rest of the story. In the movies, those key scenes may be long and rich and layered with meaning. But not always: Sometimes the key scene takes less than a minute and contains very little dialogue, and yet provides the hinge on which the whole movie turns. Every word of the dialogue during that one minute is significant. The way the scene is framed is crucial. When the director wins awards for his movie, and is asked which scenes he likes best, he does not mention the big chase scene or the masterful special effects. He thinks of the one-minute scene that made the movie. And he knows it was a masterpiece.

We have such a scene in Genesis 12. It is short, but it is critical. Miss this, and it is hard to understand the rest of the story. We are looking at the call of Abraham, which happens in a few verses, but impacts the rest of the biblical story, from Genesis to Revelation. The Old Testament scholar Gerhard Von Rad called this passage “One of the most important places in the entire Old Testament.” Someone has said that this passage is the hinge upon which the door swings opens to God’s future blessings on all humanity.

How a passage is framed is as critical to understanding the Scriptures as it is to appraising a film. To see how this passage is framed, we need to look at three other passages, one in the New Testament, and two in the Old. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul writes, “. . . just as sin entered the world through one man [Adam], and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned – for before the law was given, sin was in the world. But sin is not taken into account when there is no law. Nevertheless, death reigned from the time of Adam to the time of Moses. . .”1

Paul is telling us that the sin of the original man had spread all through humanity. There are many symptoms that demonstrate the presence of the disease – fear, selfishness, shame, hatred, blaming, lying – but the telltale symptom of sin is death, and death spread to everyone on the earth. Paul says that the later method for diagnosing sin – the law – had not yet been developed, but the evidence of sin’s presence was nonetheless irrefutable: everyone died.

God made man in such a way that, if he sinned, he would die. We think of that as a punishment, but don’t miss the fact that it was also a safety protocol. Because sin, by its nature, multiplies – sort of like compound interest – God in his mercy imposed death on his creatures. Without death, evil would accrue indefinitely, it would multiply geometrically; life would be unbearable, and the earth would soon be uninhabitable.

Between Adam in chapter 3 and Abram in chapter 12, the disease of sin spread, and its symptoms intensified. We see that in the second of those passages that helps frame our text, Genesis 6:5-6. There we read “The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.” God’s creation had become bad. Death was – and is – everywhere. As Paul put it, death reigned.


1 Romans 5:12-13

Posted in Bible, Theology, Wide Angle | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Consider Yourself a Disciple of Jesus? Don’t Make This Mistake

My wife and I had a week off and we weren’t sure where we wanted to go. I looked at cheap flights but couldn’t find any that were cheap enough to suit me. So, we looked closer to a home, something within a three or four hundred miles radius, a place where we could get outdoors and do some hiking.

We finally settled on a place in the Appalachians, a university town with state parks surrounding it. Then I looked at the weather forecast: five straight days of rain. So, we started looking again.

On the day we were set to leave, we still had “no particular place to go.” (You need to be at least as old as me for that line to resonate. If it’s like, “ringing a bell” with you, let me know.) We followed the better weather, started south, and spent the night outside of Louisville.

We ended up hiking in Cumberland Gap National Historical Park and in various state parks around Kentucky. But that meant we moved from place to place, staying in hotels that were near to hikes.

We weren’t staying in the Hyatt Regency either, but in Comfort Suites or the like. That meant there was free breakfast (did I mention that I am cheap), and each morning in the breakfast room FOX news was playing. I have seen very little cable news in my life, but for fifteen minutes each day I sat ten feet from a TV and couldn’t help but hear the broadcast.

A disclaimer: I characterize myself as a conservative (though I realize that not everyone would), but I was aghast by what I saw. The morning “news” was not news in any real sense; it was propaganda. A statistic or fact would be stated (for example, the number of would-be immigrants at the border) followed by five minutes or more that were dedicated to the goal of making the current administration look bad and hurt its party’s prospects in the next election cycle.

I said that I have spent very little time watching cable news, but five years ago I was in cardiac rehab and spent time on a treadmill in front of a television on which MSNBC “news” was always playing. It was the same kind of thing – propaganda – for the same kind of purpose.

I am telling all you this because of how much it disturbed me. I know that there are followers of Jesus who spend more time with FOX News and MSNBC than they do listening to the words of Jesus and his apostles. They are choosing to be discipled by the wrong master.

I said that I characterize myself as a conservative, but I know and love Christians who would characterize themselves as liberals, and I am saying this to anyone, conservative or liberal, who will listen: It is a mistake to spend more time with “news” media – FOX, MSNBS, PBS, NPR, CNN or whatever – than you spend with your Bible. If you are going to be discipled, be discipled to Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20), not to people who want to use you for their own ends.

If you spend five minutes a day with your Bible, spend less than five minutes with news media. If you spend an hour a day with your Bible, spend less than that – half of that – with news media. Mind your mind and the information you take into it. Otherwise, you will never “have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2:5).

Posted in In the News, Lifestyle, Spiritual life, Worldview and Culture | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Is the Bible Relevant to Your Life? Maybe Not

It was years after I became a Christian before I heard the word “catechism.” It was not used in the church where I landed. We had Sunday School and Bible studies; we did not have catechism.

When I went off to college, I met Christians from other traditions and was first exposed to the idea of catechism. From what I could tell, it was a class that people in liturgical churches needed to complete before they were allowed to take communion and become members.

I though catechism was for Christians of another stripe, but I was wrong. Everyone, whatever their stripe, goes through some form of catechesis. The word, I discovered, is a biblical one, used eight times in the New Testament, conveying the idea of receiving instruction.

Everyone gets instructed. Whether the instruction comes through a series of questions and answers or through Sunday School and Bible study is not the issue. The issue is whether the instruction is consistent with the teaching of Jesus and the apostles.

In Peter Wehner’s disturbing Atlantic article, “The Evangelical Church is Breaking Apart,” Alan Jacobs of Baylor University is quoted as saying: “People come to believe what they are most thoroughly and intensively catechized to believe…” As such, it is not the context of catechesis – whether catechism class or Sunday School – but its content and thoroughness that is important.

Jacobs is worried about the content. He claims that today’s Christians are being thoroughly and intensively catechized not by the church but by “the media they consume, or rather the media that consume them.”

The fact that Christians are being catechized in a worldview that has nothing to do with the Bible is troubling. It explains why many Christians struggle to understand the Bible and see its relevance to their lives.

My son Kevin says that many people use the Bible like the box top to a jig saw puzzle. They look at it, then try to order the pieces of their lives according to what they see. The trouble is that the pieces they are working with came from a different box. They try to use those pieces to construct the picture of peace and joy as it is presented in sermons, but no matter what they do, they cannot make the pieces go together.

A person may pursue a life for which the Bible is not relevant. Take, for example, someone whose life is all about the accumulation of possessions – a house, a car, clothes, a second car, a boat, a second house, and so on. They go to work so they can purchase these things. They buy lottery tickets for the same reason. It is the motive power that drives their lives.

They hear the pastor claim the Bible is relevant to their lives, but this is misleading, as their lives now stand. It’s not that the Bible has nothing to do with life but that their lives have nothing to do with the Bible.

The Bible cannot be used as a self-improvement tool by people whose lives are organized around a different reality from the one the Bible itself presents. How can a person whose thoughts and concerns are completely foreign to those of Jesus and the apostles possibly understand them? The history of Israel, the commands of Jesus, the destiny of the church, the final judgment – all subjects the Bible addresses – have absolutely no relation to what that person’s life is about.

The Bible is not relevant to our lives when our lives are not relevant to God and his purpose. But when they are, we can finally escape the gravity of our own self-centeredness. And then Jesus’s teaching about God, his kingdom, and human life flash with insight and promise. As people experience this conversion, Scripture comes alive. Emotions are stirred, faith grows, and hope becomes indestructible. It is no longer necessary to fit the Bible into our lives; it has become the story of our lives. Then we understand what Dietrich Bonhoeffer meant when he said, “Only in the Holy Scriptures do we learn to know our own story.”

Posted in Bible, Christianity, Spiritual life | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Wide Angle: Fallen (and Still Falling)

When Adam and Eve rebelled against God in the Garden, humanity’s authority over creation was ripped from them. They were divided from God, divided from their inner selves, divided from each other. God had warned them, “In the day you eat the forbidden fruit, you will surely die.” And they did. They experienced an immediate death in their spirits; it was now only a matter of time before their bodies would succumb to the death that had claimed their souls.

This is what it means to reject God’s authority. It means hiding, blaming, fearing, distorting, hurting. It means division between people, even husband and wife. Look at verse 17: “To the woman he said, ‘I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.’” The word translated desire is used in the next chapter of the desire to control a person. Pain and division came pouring into the most intimate relationship on earth like a flood. Husbands ruling over wives, wives trying to control husbands, and marriages cracking under the weight of sin.

Work, which had been given to man as a blessing, now became a pain and a drudgery. Verse 18: “Through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life.” When Adam and Eve disobeyed God, humankind stepped off a cliff. When theologians talk about Genesis three, they often describe Adam and Eve’s sin as The Fall. But I believe what happened in the garden was only the initial tumble down a long, steep hill. Humanity is still falling. Our downward progression has not stopped.

The would-be ruler of creation has become the subject of pain and sorrow. In the next chapter we learn that sin was passed on from parent to child. Sin is the ultimate pandemic; it has infected us all. The story of the first sin does not end with man banished from the garden because sin does not end. It continues.

Humankind has fallen, and is still falling, and who can stop our plunge? But the Creator is faithful to his creation. The psalmist says, “he will not harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve . . . ”6 He will stretch out his arm and rescue us.

I said that humanity is still falling, but in our headlong plunge toward fear and hiding and blame – towards hell itself – a hand is stretched out toward us. It is a scarred hand, and your name is engraved on its palm. He alone can break our fall, but he can only do so by gathering all the force of the fall into himself.

This was God’s plan all along. He who was at the beginning and is already at the end foresaw this. You see, history does not stretch out like a line – a timeline, as we say; rather the line has not just width, but height and depth, and it towers up, like some great cathedral spire, to the cross. It is in view in the beginning – in creation: Jesus is the Lamb slain before the foundation of the earth.9 And it is in view at the end: at the judgment and beyond: the new song of heaven is: “You are worthy . . . because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”10

Man will again rule on the earth – when he comes back under the authority of God. Despite the fall, the story goes on, but from wherever one stands, in the chaos of the early earth or the worship of the glorified in heaven, one sees towering above history the cross and, reaching into history, the outstretched, scarred palms of Jesus Christ our Lord.


6             Psalm 103:9-10

9             Revelation 13:8

10            Revelation 5:9-10

(You can read previous posts in the Wide Angle series by typing “wide angle” in the search box on the top right of this page.)

Posted in Bible, Theology, Wide Angle | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment