Category Archives: Faith

Reader’s Question: What About Unbelieving Friends and Family?

Helen D. asked the question in the title in response to a piece I wrote a couple of weeks ago (A Biblical Look into the Future). It is a familiar question. I initially responded in the comment section but we … Continue reading

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What It Means to Be Alive

The phrase “full of life” occasionally appears in print or is spoken in conversation. This or that person or, sometimes, this or that city, is said to be “full of life.” The phrase is found in many languages. German communicates it in a single word: Lebensfülle.

What does it mean for someone to be full of life? The philosopher Dallas Willard defined life as “the power to act and respond in specific kinds of relations.” He gives the example of a cabbage, which is alive and acts and responds to soil, water, and sun. A dead cabbage, though it exists, cannot act or respond.

A cat is capable of acting and responding in a greater number of relationships than a cabbage. For example, a cabbage cannot respond to a ball of string but a cat can. Neither cat nor cabbage, in my experience, responds to a word of advice. Cat lovers may disagree.

Is it possible for something or someone to be alive to one thing but not to another? Yes. The cabbage is alive to soil, sun, and rain but quite dead to a ball of string. The cat is alive to a ball of string but quite dead to Shakespeare’s plays. Shakespeare, for his part, was alive to cats, though he clearly didn’t like them.

In biblical literature, only God is alive in all kinds of relationships: he is “the living God.” People are alive in some kinds of relationships but not in others.
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A Plea to Facebook Users

About once a week, I say to myself and anyone listening: “I hate Facebook!”

It’s not that I’ve got something against Mark Zuckerberg. I am not, during these weekly laments, critiquing social media generally, though I am concerned about the losses suffered by those who spend more time in virtual relationships than in face to face ones. My chief complaint is with the lack of charity displayed by professing Christians on their Facebook pages.

I confess that I haven’t seen this for myself. I am not “very online” and have never had a Facebook account. But I frequently hear about these posts and that is almost worse. It means that the unkindness of professing Christians has been common enough to become a topic of conversation.

This is a plea to Christian Facebook users to stop writing posts that go against the teachings of Christ and his apostles. They had a lot to say on the subject of verbal communication. If a Facebook user is going to flout those instructions, at least let him or her include a disclaimer to the effect that the views shared are personal and should not be taken to represent the views of Jesus Christ or his church.
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The Bedrock Upon Which Racism Is Built

The author, activist, and preacher Jim Wallis has called racism America’s original sin. Racism is, indeed, an ancient and ugly sin. It is a sin that is even more heinous when it occurs in the Church of Jesus Christ in whom there “is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.”

Yet I think Wallis is wrong to identify racism as America’s original sin. There is an even older one. It was here before our “more perfect” – though never perfected – union was formed. There is greed.

When I was in elementary school (and, later, junior high and high school), I liked history classes. History texts and history teachers told stories, interesting stories that affirmed my place in the world as an American. Before I left elementary school, I understood that our forefathers and foremothers heroically left their homes and journeyed here to gain their religious freedom.

While this is true it is not the entire truth. Whatever the reason our particular forefathers and foremothers came here, many of them were able to come because their presence in the new world proved economically advantageous to the Crown and to the leading business interests of England, France, Spain, and the Netherlands. Continue reading

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The Spiritual Workout (If it’s easy, you’re not doing it right)

St. Paul tells us to “Continue to work out your salvation…” The NIV’s translation attempts to express the ongoing nature of the present tense of the verb. This work is not something we do once and are done. The salvation inside us is so big, it will take a lifetime to work out. There is so much potential in God’s salvation that we cannot unpack it in a few years or even in a lifetime – it will take an eternity.

If we are expending no energy in our salvation workout – if we never break a sweat, never feel a doubt, never strain under temptation – we’re not doing it right. It’s like spending an hour at the gym. If we never break a sweat, never strain against the weights or get our heart rate into triple digits, we’re not doing it right. Paul did not say “Talk out your salvation.” He said, “Work out” (or it could simply be translated work) your salvation.”

The Greek root in this word is erg, which means “work.” We get words like “energy” and “ergonomics” (and even “allergy”) from this root. In the church we often hear that salvation is “by grace” and “not by works,” and that is solid biblical truth. But we need to make sure we are not drawing the wrong conclusion from that truth. We can mistakenly assume that, because salvation does not result from our work, it must not necessitate our work. That is a serious error. Salvation does not result from work but it does result in work. As Philip Melancthon put it, “We are saved by faith alone, but faith that saves is never alone.” Faith always walks in company with its dear friend “work.”

The wall of separation that has been built between salvation and work is founded on a misunderstanding (or at least a too limited understanding) of what biblical salvation is. We misunderstand salvation when we think of it only in future terms – of getting into heaven when we die. If that is all there is to salvation, there is certainly no place for work, because we all know that we cannot work our way into heaven. Continue reading

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There Is Love: The Hope of the Resurrection (1 Cor. 15:19-28)

https://youtu.be/J8H7LpmRyes What are the implications of St. Paul’s teaching (and that of the entire biblical witness) on the resurrection? That is what this audaciously hopeful sermon explores. I invite you to join for the premier at 11:00 this morning or … Continue reading

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First Stone in an Avalanche

In the four Gospel accounts of the life and death of Jesus – this surprised me when I first realized it and it surprises me still – no one ever uses the word “resurrection” to describe Jesus’s return from death, neither the Gospel writers nor the people whose conversations they reported. They talk about how Jesus rose from the dead, but they never use the one word you would expect them to use: “resurrection.” It’s almost as if they were avoiding it.

That ought to raise a question in our minds: Why didn’t they use the word “resurrection?” The answer, I think, comes in two parts, the first of which is very straightforward: The Gospel writers did not use the word “resurrection” because the men and women whose story they were telling didn’t use the word. The fact that the writers refrained from using what is arguably the most important word in the vocabulary of the early church speaks volumes about their intention to faithfully recount what had happened. Continue reading

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Oddest Things Jesus Ever Said: The Top Four

I’ve been thinking about the oddest things Jesus ever said, the ones his first hearers thought crazy. One could make a case for quite a few of them: “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away” or “Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” There are many others but let me give you my top four.

Number four on the list: “My flesh is real food, my blood is real drink.” That not only sounds crazy, it seems perverse. Jesus’s first hearers found it repulsive. It shocked his own disciples and many of them left because he said it.

Number three on my list is this: “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). Jesus lived approximately two millennia after Abraham yet claimed that Abraham had seen his day – whatever that means – and rejoiced. When his hearers objected to this, he said: “Before Abraham was, I am.” Those disputing with him had already accused him of being out of his mind. Now, they were sure of it.

Number two on my list of (seemingly) crazy sayings comes from the night Jesus was betrayed. His disciples were confused by something he had just said and Philip, who always appears confused when he shows up in the Gospels, said to Jesus: “Show us the Father, and we’ll be satisfied,” (That tops the list of craziest things the disciples ever said.) Jesus replied, “Philip, don’t you know that anyone who has seen me has seen the Father?” That was like saying, “You want to see God, Philip? You’re looking at him.” Continue reading

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The Stubbornly Silent Future: Learning to Trust

Our governor’s “Shelter in Place” order has changed the way we live. Rather than meeting people at church or in the coffee shop, I’ve been meeting people on Zoom. Pastoral visitation has not happened in people’s homes but on our phones. I and others have been calling our church family, checking on their health, and seeing if they need groceries or meds. Many of these members are older and, to a person, they are doing remarkably well. They are a resilient bunch.

It turns out that many of our older members were spending most of their time at home, even before the governor’s order. The pandemic has not affected them in the same way it affects the soccer mom, who puts 25,000 miles a year on her van, or the retired couple who eat out five nights a week.

While our church family is doing well, the question on their minds, and on their friends’ and neighbors’ minds is: How long will this last? They want to know what’s coming next and when things are going to return to normal.

All of us have a sort of inner gravity that constantly pulls us back toward normal, even when normal is not healthy. When will things be normal again? Our routines, which always have suffered interruptions, have now been turned on their heads. Everything has changed.
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Didn’t See That Coming: Living with Uncertainty

In over a hundred years of Major League Baseball, only 16 men have homered four times in one game. Most of them were power hitters. Twelve of the 16 hit 200 or more career home runs. Nine of them hit … Continue reading

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