Friday, February 26, 2010

The Jesus Dynasty

Well, this was interesting.

It's hard to put my reaction to this book into words. First of all, I wouldn't recommend The Jesus Dynasty, by James Tabor.

Now that's out of the way, I can try and clarify my reaction to this book. I'm still unraveling it all myself--and to top it off, I listened to it on audio cds rather than read it, which, for a book like this, filled with 'scholarly stuff', made it a very different experience than usual.

I don't agree with most of what James Tabor has to say in this book. I imagine that he would not be surprised, as the book is filled with his interpretation that Jesus was not truly the Son of God and did not rise from the dead and didn't perform miracles (at least, I'm assuming the last part, since I don't remember Tabor touching on the miracles of Christ). That's not exactly the best formula to get the ministers on your side. Throughout the book Tabor accuses the church of multiple cover-ups of the 'real' story. He believes the church is intent on suppressing most of his side of the story, and while I don't doubt that the church has made dubious decisions to emphasize one side of the story over the other, I wonder how credible Tabor's side is.

It just seems that, throughout the book, the scholarship that Tabor subscribes to seems to be rather debatable. It's easy to argue from his position, that it's the church's fault, not history's, that some of his sources are not seen by all in a positive light. I guess the part I struggle with is that Tabor wouldn't agree at all with William of Ockham, after whom Ockham's razor is named (basically, the simplest solution is probably correct). Tabor always seems to choose the most complicated possibility. When presenting multiple options for how Jesus was conceived, Tabor chooses the possibility that Mary was raped by a Roman soldier who died in Germany rather than a multitude of others that seem far more possible. Could it be true? Maybe. Likely? Doubtful.

The other main problem I have with the book is that some sources are credible for some parts of the story, but not all. We all pick and choose our sources, but Tabor picks and chooses sections of his sources. Sometimes the Gospels are leaned on, sometimes discarded. Tabor leans pretty heavily on the Q theory, presenting it almost as fact, but I still haven't heard of anyone discovering an early 'Q' manuscript. It seems like he picks what is convenient for his argument.

I believe the strongest aspect of his argument is the end. Had he started with it, I imagine my reaction to the book would have been very different, not nearly as defensive. Tabor discusses that the point of his book, and, in his opinion, the point of Jesus, is to point all religions back to Abraham and the original Judaism. The argument is that we're all following the same God, and Jesus was trying to take us back to an earlier worship. Tabor suggests that he is trying to illustrate that as well. (at least, that's how I understood his case). Had he started with that, clearly stating his intent rather than beginning with complicated and controversial theories about Jesus, perhaps I would have reacted better to this book.

Guess we'll never know...


Holy, Holy Lord,

You and you alone are Lord of all of creation. You know the secrets behind the paths of the planets, and you know the reasons the birds sing out in joy. You understand all of creation, and you amaze us with all that you are.

Yet out of great love, Lord, you abide with us, near us, within us and around us, that we may never be alone. We fail to understand you and often seek to replace you with our own gods. Yet your love abides, and your Spirit moves within us to guide us back to the right worship of you.

Hear our cries to you, Lord, that we might continue to be crafted into your image, loving and worshiping you as a grateful people.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Scots Confession, Chapter XV

The Scots Confession, Chapter XIV

The Perfection of the Law and the
Imperfection of Man

We confess and acknowledge that the law of God is most just, equal, holy, and perfect, commanding those things which, when perfectly done, can give life and bring man to eternal felicity; but our nature is so corrupt, weak, and imperfect, that we are never able perfectly to fulfill the works of the law.

Even after we are reborn, if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth of God is not in us. It is therefore essential for us to lay hold on Christ Jesus, in his righteousness and his atonement, since he is the end and consummation of the Law and since it is by him that we are set at liberty so that the curse of God may not fall upon us, even though we do not fulfill the Law in all points. For as God the Father beholds us in the body of his Son Christ Jesus, he accepts our imperfect obedience as if it were perfect, and covers our works, which are defiled with many stains, with the righteousness of his Son.

We do not mean that we are so set at liberty that we owe no obedience to the Law— for we have already acknowledged its place—but we affirm that no man on earth, with the sole exception of Christ Jesus, has given, gives, or shall give in action that obedience to the Law which the Law requires. When we have done all things we must fall down and unfeignedly confess that we are unprofitable servants. Therefore, whoever boasts of the merits of his own works or puts his trust in works of supererogation, boasts of what does not exist, and puts his trust in damnable idolatry.


This fits perfectly with what we've been talking about on Wednesday night with our Romans Bible study. How are we saved? What do we contribute to our salvation? What must we do?

Here in the confession we find the answer--we must accept the grace of Christ. There aren't actions that must be followed, steps that we take in order to attain salvation. No, we accept Christ's love and acknowledge that it transforms us, even in the midst of our sin. We are sinful and broken, but Christ and his amazing sacrifice for our sins has redeemed us. The only way we are to approach Christ is with humility, recognizing our ability to sin and his forgiveness, offered freely to us through faith. It is hard to accept his grace and our own powerlessness, but that is the way that we have--dropping our own yoke and taking on Christ's, which has been prepared for us. Thanks be to God for grace and love beyond what we can imagine!

Thursday Morning


My hands and feet are yours today. I have tried to use them on my own for so long now it seems I have forgotten about your guidance. The love and grace you have poured into my life seems to be a distant memory, while my own failures are in stark contrast to your faithfulness.

Use my humble efforts today, that I might bring some glory to you, and in doing so I may learn once more of your infinite love and grace.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Wednesday Morning

Gracious God,

As I wake to begin the day, may the sins of my past remain in bed, slumbering away their lives as I move forward. Help me forget them, Lord, and leave them behind, that I may strive forward without their weight upon my soul, their burden upon my heart. I seem so desperate to carry them along, to remember their presence, when you have nailed them to the cross that they might perish for all time. Amen

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Tuesday Morning

Thanks, God.

For another day and the chance to set my wandering heart's focus on you, the one thing that ultimately matters.

For love that surrounds and enfolds me, reminding me of your eternal grace.

For gifts that I sometimes don't understand, yet you give anyway, because you are more generous and loving that I could ever imagine.

For Christ, my salvation and my hope.


Monday, February 22, 2010

Off the Cliff

Luke 4:14-30

Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.

Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth. They said, “Is not this Joseph’s son?” He said to them, “Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Doctor, cure yourself!’ And you will say, ‘Do here also in your hometown the things that we have heard you did at Capernaum.’” And he said, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff. But he passed through the midst of them and went on his way.

Off the Cliff

It’s amazing how popular the Olympics are. I would imagine that if the entire U.S. Olympic team were to march into this sanctuary, I might be able to name three of them successfully. If they were going to hold an international curling competition downtown, how many people would honestly show up? If Bob Costas was going to dreamily describe sporting events any other month of the year, I wouldn’t watch. But something about the Olympics simply captivates. Maybe it’s the heartwarming stories or the international cooperation. Maybe it’s the strange sports, the different ways someone can throw themselves off a mountain that intrigues us. Or maybe we just like to see who wins.

Isn’t that a huge part of the Olympics? We can talk about the spirit of the games all we want, but there will always be some who focus solely on the winners and losers. Anymore NBC doesn’t waste much time showing those who middle somewhere in anonymity—they’ll show the best, and they’ll show the Americans, and that’s about it. They have made the assumption, and in turn the decision for us, that we want to watch the winners.

They Olympics does a great job of separating the winners from losers. They have a podium and only play the anthem of the winner. You get a medal that clearly delineates who has won, and those who did not are noticed by their lack of medals. For all the talk of the spirit of the games, the numbers you see most often are the medal counts.

It’s a part of our identity as Americans. We want to be winners. It’s why we declare the champions of our sports leagues world champions even though they’ve likely not even played a team from a different country. We like to separate those who win from those who lose.

We’re not so different from those seated in the temple on the morning Jesus spoke in the temple in Nazareth. They had expected to hear another confirmation of their status as religious winners. What they got made them so angry they were ready to push the Son of God off a cliff.

Remember that just before this passage Jesus has experienced the temptation in the wilderness. Having successfully resisted that, he begins his public ministry. He travels all around the countryside, teaching in the synagogues and being praised by everyone. Imagine the anticipation when he returns to Nazareth—if he has done wondrous things for all of those other people, surely what he is about to do here in Nazareth will be even more astounding!

So Jesus is given the scroll in the synagogue and finds this passage from Isaiah. He reads the text while he is standing, and then moves to sit, as would have been customary. Perhaps I need to explore this ‘preaching while sitting’ idea. If it worked for Jesus…

Every eye is fixed upon him as they await his words. They remain upon him while he speaks, yet I can begin to imagine their narrowing with anger as they listen to his words.

Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land; yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.

What is so significant about this?

What Jesus is saying, what he is indicating, is that God is on the move. God’s arms are extending, reaching out to those who have not heard the Good News, who have not been included in previous covenants, and people should get ready to proclaim this great news to everyone!

What the people heard was that their gold medal was now being given to everyone. What they felt was shock that they would no longer be exclusive in the story of redemption. What they heard was that everyone might get a medal. And this made them furious.

For so long, thousands of years, the covenant community had celebrated its status as God’s chosen people. They told the stories of God’s freeing them from the Israelites time and time again, each time ending with an emphasis that God has chosen them for redemption from among all the tribes in all the world. Their inclusion had become a source of pride, and they were unwilling to open their hearts, to open their lives, and let others share in the incredible grace and love of God.

When they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.

Can you picture their fury? It seems so…over the top. So excessive. What Jesus has told them is that God is working to include all in the covenant, to widen the circle of redemption, to reach out in love to each beloved soul. Instead of reacting with joy at the thought of God’s expanding grace, they were shell-shocked and angry at the idea that God might be so inclusive as to save those considered ‘outsiders’.

It’s easy to pound away at the Nazarenes for their exclusive attitudes. What’s harder to do is examine our own hearts and think about whether we are guilty of the same sin.

Have you ever heard the term ‘salvation outside the church’? It’s been a term of quite some debate within the Catholic Church. We often talk about the catholic church, with a little c, in our Apostle’s Creed, meaning the church universal, the church that exists beyond time and space, with Jesus Christ at its head. Then there is Roman Catholic church, who has been struggling to define whether one can be saved outside of the particular Roman Catholic Church. They have not been alone in their struggle—we each try to define just what it takes to be saved by God. We can all agree that one can be saved through Christ alone, but beyond that, we have to accept a certain amount of uncertainty—we are all relying on the grace of God to save us, and we have to accept that we cannot define or control that grace.

Think about your own life. When you go to work in the morning, do you consider yourself as going to a place where God is alive and working, and that you are a representative of the church there? When you wake up in the morning and go to eat your breakfast, do you consider your breakfast table to the Lord’s Table, where you sit and partake in God’s abundant blessings? Or is it secular simply because it’s not within these four walls?

God is on the move. This passage we read today is all about God’s expanding grace and our reaction to it. Our first instinct is to be defensive, to be outraged that God might reach out and save everyone. But we have to move beyond that and to recognize that this is indeed an event to celebrate. God will save sinners! God’s grace is big enough o include the poor and the oppressed, the blind and the captive! God’s love is expanding to include those whom we have forgotten!

Our reaction should be: How can we be a part of this? How can we join in with the amazing things God is doing? How can we lend our efforts, our voices and our love, to be a part of God’s expanding kingdom? We shouldn’t be outraged at the fact that God might work outside of a particular church building or a particular group of people—we should be overjoyed that God cannot be controlled or defined by humanity!
So how can we be a part of this?

By going forth and telling the story, by going forth and living the story. Just as the Gospels provide us snapshots of what God’s grace and mercy is like, the world around us is filled with illustrations of God’s abundant grace! We are to go forth and point out these situations to the world! We are to be the storytellers of God’s amazing tale, the story of a God in love with his beloved people! We are to tell our friends and neighbors of the amazing things God is doing around us, in the church and outside of the church, of the ways God is on the move and we are to invite others to recognize God as the one who is moving in their lives. We are to be the church, in this place and in our homes, in the workplace and in the schools, in the gutters and in the mansions of the world. We are to be the church, pointing to God’s grace and proclaiming with a loud voice, “God is at work here!”

God’s grace is expanding.

Will you lend your voice, your life, to the effort?

Let us pray


So I heard the news this morning that Toyota was thrilled to save $100 million by not fully addressing the safety issues of their accelerators. Just as they said the problems were completely due to the floormats when (as I understand it) they have far more to do with the electronics.

Then I was listening to the news on the way to work this morning and they had a quote from Toyota that went like this: "Our first priority is the safety of our customers and to conclude otherwise on the basis of one internal presentation is wrong," the company said. "Our values have always been to put the customer first and ensure the highest levels of safety and quality."

From everything I've heard and read, the first priority hasn't safety at all. It's been maximizing profit and hoping that the safety issues they knew about wouldn't be made public/come back to bite them. Reminds me of the movie Fight Club, where Ed Norton worked to calculate whether it was more cost efficient to fix the problem or settle the lawsuits.

Toyota has been saying one thing, but everything about the company lately points in the other direction. I don't care what they say anymore, I only follow the actual news and make new promises to never buy a Toyota every time I see their hypocrisy played out in the headlines.

I'd love to say that such things never happen in the church, but they do. All the time, we are saying one thing, but those watching us bear witness to actions that are not always consistent with our words. We fail to have integrity between our Sunday morning proclamation and our weekday living. And all the while those who are watching us live question why they should attend church...

As a Presbyterian church we put great value in our words. We use them to build up, to guide and to learn. We put even greater value in the Word, our Holy Scripture. But only because of the God it points to. Only because the Good News of the Gospel corresponds to a real person who lived with integrity and talked about serving and loving while actually doing it.

May we, as a church, have the courage to do what we say, to follow where the Word leads, to admit our shortcomings and strive to serve faithfully the God who is always trustworthy and true. May we live our faith, witnessing to the joy we have in Christ and the commitment we have made, thereby encouraging others to consider the same commitment to Jesus Christ our Lord.

And on a mildly unrelated subject... the inflatable church looks amazing

Monday Morning

Dear God,

You have given us so much hope.

Hope over sin and death. Hope that all of our brokenness will be redeemed. Hope in you and your great love and power. Hope that one day, all will be made new.

Help us to live as a hopeful people. Transform our weary hearts, that we might shine with the light of your Son.


Friday, February 19, 2010



How to place our complete trust in you? My mind knows all the facts, and my body will carry me to worship, but somehow my heart still resists. It tries to trust in my self, or in the treasures of the world. Forgive my wayward heart, Lord, and fill it with your Spirit, that I might be converted once more by your Holy Spirit and live a life that testifies to your amazing and wondrous grace.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Thursday Morning

Great God--

I love you. With all of my soul, I love you. You are the architect of earth, having set the pillars in place and determined the boundaries for the ocean. Your voice quaked and mountains rose. You adorned the meadows with beauty beyond compare, and you continue to astound with new creation today. Thank you, Lord, for all of this. May my heart and soul be astounded by what you have done, and may my gratitude transform my life.


Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Stones Into Schools

It's been a while since I've reviewed a book. (It's been a while since I've read a book worth reviewing, also) What a way to start back--I read this one while I was on vacation, and it was awesome.

Stones Into Schools is Greg Mortenson's latest report on the Central Asia Institute's ongoing work in Pakistan and Afghanistan. (The first being the similarly-incredible Three Cups of Tea)He works to build schools in the farthest places, those that are passed by and forgotten by their over-burdened governments, and in doing so builds relationships between these communities and America, transforming communities through the power of education.

I won't re-tell the amazing story of Greg's life that is told so well in the pages of these books. It is worth reading alone simply for the characters that Greg works with on the other side of the planet. The thing that amazes me is Greg's humility. He enters into these situations and asks what the people there need and want. He listens before he speaks, and when he does act, he allows himself to be led by those in charge. He doesn't barge in and seek to supply the answers--instead he allows the leaders' passion for children's education to drive the projects, making these schools belong to the villages, not to some American NGO. He is an incredible person, doing incredible things by his willingness to serve and his attitude of humility.

The stories are incredible--the scenery and situations are heartbreaking. I can't recommend this book highly enough--what is happening in these far-flung places is truly changing the world, one village at a time. The leaders of these villages are desperate to educate their children, and that need is being met, slowly but surely, by Greg Mortenson and so many others who have pledged to serve those who are not being served by anyone else.

Wednesday Morning

Holy Lord,

Be my light on this winter's morn. Be my warmth as the sun rises. Stir within my heart so the words of my life may give glory to you. Remind me that my own dreams and goals are to be anchored in you, the sure foundation of everything true in this world. Give wings to my heart that it may soar in the highest heavens while reaching out to my friends and neighbors here. May my life sing to you.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Wednesday Morning

Holy, Holy, Holy Lord,

You abide in steadfast love and infinite grace. Your power stretches from beyond one horizon into a future farther than I can see or understand. Your love reaches out to me in the depth of my sin and despair.

You are Lord of every moment of my life, even though I fail to acknowledge that. May I begin to open my eyes and see that you abide at work, at home, in the car and every single place I go. May I seek to serve you in all places, all the time, for your glory and not my own.


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Tuesday Morning


On this wet and dreary day, remind me that my joy is eternal. It is not a passing ray of light, or a momentary time of beauty. It is joy, true and eternal, lasting and more real than anything I can imagine. It is glorious, wondrous and gracious, and it have changed my entire life. Thank you.


Monday, February 8, 2010

Monday Morning

Holy Lord,

On this holy day, reign in my heart. You are seated on your throne as I traverse the hours of the day--may I walk with you. My heart, my very being longs for communion with you, yet it strays from its worship of you. May my humble efforts to live as your servant be acceptable before your wondrous grace, as my heart and mind are transformed by the amazing love of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior.


Thursday, February 4, 2010

From World Vision

My Help

Thursday Morning

Gracious and Forgiving God--

I hear the sound of angel wings, and I mistake it for the ordinary.
I see your love unfolding nearby, and my eyes see only commonplace.
I watch as grace and mercy unfold and surround me, yet I sense only humanity.

Capture my heart with your wildness, and may I be freed from the shackles of my unsurprised heart, running wild and free to imagine how deep and how great is your love!


Wednesday, February 3, 2010


Jesus Christ,

I forget that you spend years as a carpenter, practicing your trade, working with wood rather than souls. Or were you busy healing as well? Perhaps you'd do it on the sly, when no one would notice? They'd come to have some wood shaped and end up with some insight on the kingdom?
I don't think so. I imagine the Gospels would have included that. Were you waiting for a reason? Perhaps simply to understand our condition? So you could say you know perfectly the road we walk?
Thank you for coming. For being fully God, fully human. For loving so deeply, for grace and beauty, for love and wonder. Thank you, Christ, and may my feet somehow find their way along the path you have set before us.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Tuesday Evening

Holy God,

On this day my feet have wandered a long and windy path. I have had moments when it seems that the way before me was so clear that could almost hear your Spirit in my ear, directing my ways. I've had times when I seem to have forgotten that I am a Christian at all, mindlessly worshipping self and and pursuing my own goals rather than your kingdom. I have wandered a strange and narrow road, peering over the edge and forgetting your eternal realm.

This land seems so foreign at times, as though I don't know your plans for me any better than I know my own self. Open my eyes, Lord, that your glory may be clear to me. I seem to wander in the mire more often than not, convinced that I know and understand the way forward when the truth is that I must kneel before your throne before I can ever take a proper step on the path of true life. You are all that is holy and proper, all that is wondrous and gracious. In you and you alone is Truth and Life.

May this night bring rest, so that I may wake tomorrow with clarity in mind and purpose in heart, certain that serving you is truly the goal of my each and every blessed moment.

Thanks, God. For everything.


Tuesday Morning

God of beauty and love,

Plant your song within my heart. For so long I have been trying to create my own tune, so that my own glory may be proclaimed. Create in me a new heart, that I may sing of your eternal glory. My own life will fade away, but you remain forever, my Lord and God, my Friend and Savior. May my moments proclaim your eternal goodness.


Monday, February 1, 2010

The Lord's Prayer

Monday morning


Snow lingers like reminders of what once was. It rests on the railing and the walk, clinging to whatever pockets of shadows it can find, shielded from the sun's murderous rays.
It reminds me of your grace in its purity, in its ability to cover the landscape and renew everything.
It reminds me of my sin, in its lingering past its welcome, in its muddy appearance as it melts, in the way I plead for it to leave.
Lord Jesus, on this blessed day, may I remember that your grace is stronger than my sin, and that your ability to forgive is greater than my ability to sin.