Monthly Archives: November 2013

7 Really Outrageous Things That Actually ARE in the Bible

  1. Snake handling.  Yes thank you longer ending to Mark, because of you we get this, “And he said to them, “And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mark 16:16-18)
  2. Too many genealogy nuts!  You know how every family has one of those people who tracks down all your great-great-grandfathers and mothers?  Well Jesus had two of those.  Matthew and Luke.  Too bad they got different results.  I mean they are good up to David but after that it all goes awry and they can’t even agree with who Joseph’s father was.  (compare Matthew 1 with Luke 3)
  3. Speaking of family issues exactly what came first the chicken or the egg?  I mean, Adam or Eve?  You see we make a lot of Adam being created first but that is actually in the second creation story (Genesis 2) while in the more well-known creation story in Genesis 1, the one with the days of the week, Adam and Eve are actually created at the same time.  So which is it?  Do we actually know how all this happened, is the Bible just guessing, is this a multiple choice test?
  4. Pretty much everyone commits adultery! We spend a lot of time on sexuality but we are usually careful in our application of such standards (making sure to apply them to others not ourselves).  Jesus isn’t.  In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5 and following) he is quite clear.  Anyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery.  Then something about plucking out our eye.  Really?  They will know we are Christian by our eye-patches.  (Keep reading if you really want Jesus to speak to you on divorce as well… yes more adultery – we have quite the theme going here.)
  5. Lions, and Tigers, and Bears – Oh My!  Okay more like Levitical Codes, mythical beasts, and murderous happenings.  I mostly steered clear of this one because it’s the stuff that populates other such lists.  But yah – no eating shellfish, or playing with pig skin, and watch out for Leviathan and unicorns, and don’t forget not to mock adults after reading the story of the 42 children slaughtered by two she-bears for mocking Elisha (2 Kings 2:24).  We read all this… and there is a lot of it, and then we say, “This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.”  Whatever we mean when we say that after reading things we mostly or completely ignore.
  6. God forgets God’s own rules.  Peter has a vision that reprimands him about not eating “unclean” food.  God’s rebuke: “The voice said to him again, a second time, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” (Acts 10:15)  The challenge?  It was in Leviticus 11 that God forbid Jews from eating these things.  So Peter didn’t call them profane, God did.  Only apparently God has forgotten that – or changed it and neglected to tell poor Peter until making a public display of it.
  7. Speaking of unfortunate people just trying to help.  Helpers shall be executed!  At least in one case.  1 Chronicles 13 and 2 Samuel 6 tell the story of poor Uzzah who is killed for daring to touch the Ark of the Covenant.  Must have come as a big surprise for him because he thought he was steading it so it wouldn’t fall over.  Be careful about doing a favor for God apparently – at least that was David’s take-away that day.

Bonus Round for good measure:

  • The worst recruiter ever.  I have to add 8 because these are texts I spend a lot of time with in my journey.  It doesn’t matter where you start looking; Jesus is horrible at the recruiting game.  Give away everything you own and only then can you start following me?  (Luke 18:22)  Family too… and the dead… and pretty much everything (Luke 9:51-62).  The rewards of this will be great in heaven… if you get past the part about being sent as lambs among wolves (Luke 10:3) with pretty much nothing to call possessions (a challenge to anyone who thinks prayer will get you material wealth).  In fact Jesus takes all and offers a life filled with persecution and prohibitions seemingly (there are other voice of course – thankfully – but that the point really).  Worst deal ever!

So what in the world is the point of this?  Why start (and really this is just a flash in the pan, a first set of musings about the outrageous that exists in Holy Scripture) a list that seems to discredit the Bible?  The point is that we live in an age (and probably every age shares this) that is very confused about the Bible.  On average we aren’t very literate in what is in there, and we think a lot is there that actually isn’t thanks to good Christian storytellers like Dante and his contemporaries today. We are prone to leave much, if not all, the interpretation up to “experts” which further distance us from reading and knowing and exploring ourselves.  We don’t realize how many different texts there are or the translational challenges that exist to create anything close to an “authentic” version.  And we pick and choose which parts we really believe God said… because honestly DON’T handle poisonous snakes – just don’t do it.

But…  but all this aside we then say things like: “Well the Bible says…” or “Its very clear the Book of Genesis/Mark/Revelation/Whatever tells us…” or, for that matter, “This is the word of the Lord.”  As if that is all that there is to say, it’s that clear and that definitive and that final.

Please don’t get me wrong.  I love scripture.  The Bible is a unique and authoritative voice in my life.  But not because “I said so” or its divine equivalent.  It’s far more complex than that.  It’s like Jacob wrestling with the angel. (Genesis 32)  I’m as much put out of joint by it than I am given an identity, purpose, and direction.  Abraham was instructed to kill his son, but that isn’t a warrant for you to do the same.  The Bible says many many things.  It contradicts itself.  It corrects itself.  It has fluid understanding of what it means – just look at almost any interpretation from Paul of the Old Testament and you will have to admit he does strange things with it.

The church has an ages old crisis of authority when it comes to scripture.  It is all too common to claim someone is abandoning scripture when it’s just that they interpret it different from you.  Peter abandons scripture… because God tells him too.  The Bible is as much about the group of people listening to it as it is about the group of people speaking and the Holy Spirit dwells in both parts of that equation.  The Bible isn’t simply true because it was dictated by God.  It is true because it is the living testimony to the living God.  Its truth comes in those moments when the community of faith – wrestling with direction and identity – is put out of joint by it and named by God through it.  So tread carefully – sandals off for we are on holy ground – when you are discerning how the Bible speaks to you, to us, today.  And be careful how you measure a verse to the chapter to the Book to the whole arc of Scripture before you say, “The Bible says…” because somehow this merry band of outrageous texts IS the Word of God, just as somehow this merry band of eclectic and crazy people IS the Body of Christ.  We need to be treated with care – with respect for the whole voice and with caution that we don’t just pick who to listen to because that is the most convenient truth for our lives.

Thanks (most days at least, sometimes I’m far more put out of joint) be to God!

A Gettysburg Address, of sorts

A week ago an idea was put forth by a seminary colleague of mine: the Gettysburg Address sermon.  November 19th marks its 150th Anniversary.  It is considered one of U.S. history’s greatest speeches, and its only 272 words long.  If one of the greatest speeches ever was 272 words why do we need so many many more?  So the challenge was put forth.  What if on November 17th, in honor of this great moment in history, we preached sermons that were only 272 words long?

The challenge intrigued me.  I want to do it.  I’m not preaching this Sunday so I cannot now, but I imagine I will take the challenge at some point in the near future.  It is amazing what happens when we begin to make sure every word counts in what we say.  It’s the opposite of the way I preach now (I don’t write sermons out so I don’t know how many words I use).  And maybe for this reason alone I consider it a good idea – we need to change it up now and then.  After all God is always doing a new thing!

However, the subject of the remainder of this post isn’t the idea of a sermon of 272 words; it’s actually the Gettysburg Address as the sermon.  What happens to these words when we preach them in our churches?  What happens to these words when the battles which we reference are the wars of words and theology and scriptural authority that occur and split and mangle the Body of Christ today?   When the grave yard in which we stand is our own empty pews?


About church splits there are many theories.  The diversity is too great to hold our deep convictions about God together in unity.  Questions about power, authority, and whether we are bound together by sets of laws or by a common vision that will not let us go.  The role of tradition and how we honor the past without becoming its slaves.  And how we pass on our convictions while also granting freedom of conscience?

These questions plagued our nation, and they haunt our understanding of church today.  When I teach Presbyterian history I talk about the civil war.  Whether we admit it the church has always been formed by the society around us and this was true of slavery.  The church split even as the nation split.  We could not, however, simply fight a war and establish unity again (yes I’m over simplifying).   But it took the church over 100 years to end that rift, if we even did.  And when I think on that I think – maybe the literal battle fought by blue and grey wasn’t any dirtier than the hundred year’s war the church fought.

Is there another way?  Is unity worth the blood and tears?  Apparently Lincoln thought so.  But he also thought it gave us responsibility.  Responsibility to make that sacrifice worth it.  Responsibility to pass on the gift of freedom, the gift of shared experience in freedom, the gift of people invested in being freedom for the generations to come.  Does this preach in our churches today?  I don’t know yet… but I have a sense it does…. There shall be a new birth of freedom, indeed.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

It should be noted that the post above is divided into three sections, each 272 words long.  Not exactly the assignment but I still enjoyed the process.

Living for God’s glory or Living for our own glory

So I woke up to this commentary this morning:

“The Christian church has a bad case of narcissism. And that’s a tragedy because it’s supposed to be in love with God, not with itself. But that is one of the problems with religion. It inevitably creates its own support system and ends up spending so much time and energy on its packaging that it tends to forget what is supposed to be inside.” – John Sloat

I have been thinking on this, especially in light of stewardship season.  My end result is to say, I wish it was that easy.

I’ve heard that polling data says that everyone believes congress to be doing a bad job; however most people also believe that their particular representative is the exception and doing good work.   That just can’t be true.  But it points to an interesting human trait.  We extend grace to people we know well (and sometimes so much so that all accountability is gone) and we have little room for anything short of perfection out of people we do not know.

So we love our church, but thing ‘the Church’ are hypocrites and self-serving narcissists. 

The truth is probably somewhere in between.  Isn’t it always?  Our own beloved church is probably – check that, it is – compromising some of God’s radical mission for the sake of our own comfort, needs, and pride.  But the Church at large is also not full of horribly self-centered people.  If people were that selfish they wouldn’t be giving up their Sundays, freely giving to missions, volunteering in Sunday school classes.  Sure some churches are doing it better than others.  But really… there are better ways to be narcissistic than gathering to worship God.  Maybe we need to love each other a bit more – extend grace outside our own circles a bit more – and then recognize that if we want to start slinging around accountability the place to start is within our own community.  Don’t throw criticism around, but lead by example.  Show them the Gospel.  That is some incarnational theology, and I’ve heard that God is kind of into that.

I tend towards the belief that one loves God by loving others. Peter Rollins, author of Insurrection, says that since God IS love you cannot love God as if God is some external object we chase down and love on. We become one with God as we embrace love, as we love neighbors, and even as we love self.  There is some room for self-love and communal-love in the world of loving God. 

On the other hand I’m not defending church self-infatuation and institutional selfishness. My favorite theologian of all time is Søren Kierkegaard.  Part of his attack upon Christendom is based on these same thoughts. His critique notes that institutions or groups (and the Church as one) necessarily develop a selfishness to perpetuate themselves and often to the detriment of our true mission.  This is why he struggled (fought) mightily with the established Church even as he dedicated his life to wrestling with what it meant to follow Jesus. 

So I find myself in a tension.  A good tension, a faithful tension I believe.  It’s a tension that says we are called to love ourselves, to love the place and people we gather with and that this is essential to how we love God.  We are also called not to do that to the detriment of how we love neighbor… particularly those neighbors who we least identify with in our daily lives and our churchy gatherings. 

This tension sits with me in all that do, but it also reminds me that you cannot make nice easy lines between what is done for my glory and what is done for God’s glory.  Because God loves the world.  God love me, and God loves you.  God glorifies you, and God glorifies me.  And when we participate in that we glorify God. 

So what is my take away?  Live in the tension of it all.  There is no such thing as “doing it absolutely right.” So give some grace to everyone and seek the best we can to find that middle ground where we live not for ourselves alone, but for all people (ourselves included). 

Grace and Peace to you all,