Sundays With St. Paul: “Covenant Blood” Similarities…

This is part of a series I’m writing for Near Emmaus. Feel free to read it there or read other posts by other bloggers.

During my reading for this week, I was struck by this passage from Frank Thielman:

“[Jesus’] reference to covenantal blood in Matthew and Mark takes the form ‘this is my covenant blood’ (Mt 26:28; Mk 14:24) and in Luke, ‘this cup is the new covenant in my blood’ (Lk 22:20). Paul’s version of the statement in [1 Cor.] 11:25 is so close to Luke’s that the slight differences cannot be detected in translation. The version in Luke and Paul make explicit what the one in Mark and Matthew imply: Jesus interpreted his death as the establishment of the new covenant predicted in Jeremiah 31:31 and understood the blood shed in his death as analogous to the blood that, according to Exodus 24:8, Moses sprinkled on the people at the establishment of the Sinaitic covenant.”[1]

For one thing, I had never thought of Jesus’ “covenant blood” as mimicking or relating to Moses’ sprinkling of blood as a mark of the covenant. I think I tend to focus too much on the vampire-like aspect of drinking blood for communion.

For another thing, I haven’t studied the similarities between Luke and Paul before and I found Thielman’s insight interesting. I have heard before that, according to tradition and a mention in one of Paul’s letters (I forget which one), Luke was a traveling companion to Paul (at least at one point). What I’m wondering, though, is why, as Thielman says, Mark and Matthew would imply this analogy of Jesus?

Ever since college, I’ve been fascinated by the subtle, yet significant differences between the Gospels. Or, rather, the Synoptic Problem (so similar, yet so different). Any time the first three gospels (and occasionally John) flow stride-for-stride and then one deviates slightly, I’m compelled to wonder what might be implied. Yet at the same time, I know that not every difference within the Synoptics is for a specific, significant reason – an underlying message, if you will.

So that’s why I’m posing the question to you all: Do you think something’s intended by Luke’s subtle deviation from Mark and Matthew or is it the other way around; are Mark and Matthew intentionally distinguishing their account of the Lord’s Supper from that of Luke? If either of those is the case, what might be the reason? And do you think Paul had a strong influence on Luke’s account?


[1] Frank Thielman, Paul & the Law: A Contextual Approach (InterVarsity Press, 1994), 105

On Being a Seminarian: Power of Nuance…

This is my first post as a part of Near Emmaus. Feel free to view it there or view other posts by the other bloggers.

Three years ago around this same time I was in Eugene finishing up my final year at the University of Oregon. Since my final two required courses I needed for my communication studies minor weren’t offered until the spring, I was spending the winter term taking a couple electives from Dr. Daniel Falk. One was Early Christian Religion and the other was Dead Sea Sectarian, an area of expertise for Falk.

In both classes we were required to write 10-12 page research papers and the topics were relatively open-ended. For an English major who was used to one or two prompts to choose from for a 4-5 page argumentative essay, finding a topic was a bit of a challenge. However, after reading the Community Rule from the Dead Sea Scrolls, something caught my eye:

“And when these become members of the Community in Israel according to all these rules, they shall separate from the habitation of unjust men and shall go into the wilderness to prepare there the way of Him; as it is written, Prepare in the wilderness the way of … make straight in the desert a path for our God,’ [Isa. 40:3]. This (path) is the study of the Law which He commanded by the hand of Moses, that they may do according to all that has been revealed from age to age, and as the Prophets have revealed by His Holy Spirit.” – Column VIII, lines 14-17 (about)[1]

Recognize anything – particularly from Isaiah? This same exact verse is found in the Gospels: Matt. 3:3; Mark 1:2-3; Luke 3:4; and John 1:23 (John’s own version, of course). However, the Gospels obviously interpret this verse differently. Instead of beginning a new community out in the wilderness, it is John who is already in the wilderness “crying out.” And instead of launching God’s movement through a stronger devotion to the Sinaitic Law (“by the hand of Moses”), it was announcing the arrival of Jesus, the Christ.

Such a slight variation in interpretation is a prime example of what’s called “nuance.” Regular readers of Near Emmaus probably know this word quite well, but for the newcomers (kind of like myself), its literal definition is “a subtle difference or distinction in expression, meaning, response, etc.”[2] This particular nuance in utilizing Isaiah 40:3, the focal point for both my research papers that winter term, was what really piqued my interest in the academic side of seminary – and in the world of biblical literature beyond the Bible. Barely over one semester into George Fox, I find myself fully immersed into that academic world.

Yet, and I imagine many have similar stories from their respective seminaries, I have also found nuances in the spiritual side of life here. Hearing all the stories I have from my classmates, I often find myself amazed at the diversity of life experiences that brought everyone here. Many of them similar; not quite satisfied with the “real world,” so trying their hand at something more fulfilling to them. And yet there is such rich flavor in their various ways of perceiving their world.

I mentioned something along these lines in my reflection over fall term at George Fox; that my perspective isn’t yours and that our real challenge in the midst of such diversity is to find the beauty in each other’s point of view, each other’s nuance. Whether it be the text of Scripture or our own personal stories, the power of nuance – of a slight, subtle difference in expression – speaks volumes to the expanse (and complexity) of our God. And what’s driving my studies through my second semester (coincidentally enough with two 10-12 page research papers, also) is every little nuance I find. They’re kind of like breadcrumbs.

Tomorrow I’ll share a few notes from my class’ discussion of Paul and the nuances in the way he uses “law.” I’ve already begun that series over on my own blog, but I’ll share that post here as well.

What are some nuances you’ve discovered in your own studies? Your community? How have they guided your life?


[1] Geza Vermes, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English (Penguin Classics, 2004), 109

[2] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/nuance?s=t (emphasis mine)

Discussing Female Authority…

If it wasn’t for my mother, grandmother, and fifth grade teacher (Mrs. Gaffney), I would not be writing this blog post. When I was young, they were the prominent people in my life cultivating a deep love for the written word – both reading and writing it. In college, when it came time to choose a major, I recalled my constant practice of emulating my mother’s beautiful handwriting, my grandmother’s delight in my ability to read, and Mrs. Gaffney’s validation of my ability to write in front of the entire class. With all of them in mind, I chose a degree in English literature. I do not regret it for a second.

I bring all of this up because there has been a recent stir within the social media world, at least recent to me, about women in positions of teaching and authority. No, I’m not talking about teaching in school or even in Sunday school. I’m talking about female pastors and speakers at conventions. I’m talking about women having the same abilities as men to speak, teach, and lead congregations in the ways of God. Some might deem this discussion as heresy, but I think we should have been having this discussion a long time ago.

Nevertheless, I’m wading into it. When something becomes popular, especially if it has a rebellious flare to it, it is easy for me to hop on until the popularity fades. Not to say that feminism is the popular thing to do or that this recent rise of it within Christian circles is merely a fad. Ideas and beliefs amongst “Jesus feminists” (a label I’m considering) are not popular in the main streams of Christianity. Yet I have the tendency to treat things like these as if they were mere trends and nothing more. With the particular topic of equality between women and men, however, I don’t want to treat it as nothing more than a trend.

What this involves is finding something within the movement that will endure. If I am to be a part of a movement, it’s best if I find where the movement is a part of me. And this is why I began this post talking about my mother, grandmother, and fifth grade teacher. If I am going to take the stance that women do not belong in pastoral roles, then I may be attacking my own upbringing. No, my mother, grandmother, and fifth grade teachers were not pastors or elders in my church growing up (I didn’t even have a church until I was in the eighth grade). But by their teaching, guidance, nurturing, cultivation and validation, I fell in love with reading and writing. Imagine if they had been teaching me about Jesus.

I understand that there are verses in Scripture that seem rather explicit – like 1 Timothy 2:11-14, where Paul states that he would not permit a woman to have authority over men. But these verses have some issues revolving around them. First off, scholars question Paul’s authorship of 1 Timothy (and 2 Timothy, 2 Thessalonians, Ephesians, Colossians, and Titus). It’s believed that someone wrote under Paul’s name and maybe even under Paul’s school of thought, but that it wasn’t Paul. But perhaps that’s an issue for another time. Second, if it was Paul writing this, he apparently forgot what he said in 1 Corinthians 11 where he talks about women prophesying in church. The issue there isn’t women with leadership roles; it’s women without head coverings.

Discussing Paul’s letters and where they talk about women in leadership positions is only a small part of the Scriptures that either give or forbid female authority. We also see in the Gospels where Jesus was cared for by women. And when He rose from the grave, it was women who carried the message to the Apostles (and these stories were kept in Scripture in spite of patriarchal societies transcribing them). Reading through the Hebrew Bible we find plenty of women who rose up to accomplish God’s purpose rather than men. It’s a much more nuanced discussion than it appears.

What my mind keeps coming back to, though, is what Jesus says in Mark 10:42-45;

“And Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that those are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be our servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Emphasis mine)

I can’t say with absolute certainty that those who argue against women in leadership are attempting to lord their male authority over women, but it certainly feels that way. Micah J. Murray recently admitted in his blog that he used to define feminists as women with an authority problem. But if it is true that males are lording their authority over females, then, as Jesus points out, it isn’t the feminists who have an authority problem. (By the way, Micah, in the same blog post, also identified himself as a “Jesus feminist.”)

Although I don’t talk much about it, I am half Cherokee. One thing about the Cherokee people is that, before the arrival of Europeans, lineages were traced through the mother. To this day, women play a prominent role amongst Native tribes – particularly in leadership. Perhaps we could take a lesson from our Native sisters and brothers. Perhaps we could stop attempting to make cookie-cutter Christians and instead let Jesus create the kind of people he wants to. Perhaps we could let go of our “God-given” or “divine right” authority and let the one who is called lead the way, regardless of their gender.

If being an advocate for equality amongst genders makes me a Jesus feminist, then I suppose I am one. Right now it sort of feels awkward, but it’s because I’m still defining what it looks like for me. I’m still figuring the parts of the movement that are already a part of me – the things that will endure when something like this stops being trendy. Not so strangely enough, those elements of this movement look a lot like Jesus.

May we all learn to serve our sisters and brothers equally.

God bless.

God’s Newsfeed…

A strange thought came to me earlier today. I was sitting at Subway eating my usual foot-long Black Forest ham on Italian herbs and cheese when I happened to notice a lady sitting across the restaurant from me staring out the window. She had finished her sandwich and was munching on a cookie while sipping her soda. Every thing about her suggested that she wasn’t in a hurry; she chewed slowly, sipped sparingly, and sighed heavily, almost as if she was bored. By all appearances, she was lonely. I wondered, if God had a Facebook account, would she be in His newsfeed?

Obviously she would be – more so because God doesn’t need Facebook to see what’s going on in everyone’s lives, but even if He did need Facebook, she’d show up in His newsfeed. Heck, He might even have it set up to be notified every time she posted something (a feature I found kind of pointless due to the fact that everyone I received notifications about popped up in my newsfeed). But God sees the good and the bad; popular and unpopular; and the befriended and lonely. And careless of popularity points or approval ratings, He loves each and every one of them.

Loving others like God has loved us, to put it mildly, is exceedingly difficult. Not only is it within our nature to be around people who make us feel good or accepted or validated, but our selfish, “independent,” American culture has trained us to instinctively care for ourselves before we care for others. It has taught us “out with the bad and in with the good” so that we just might attain that level of happiness we desperately pursue. And as evidenced with Facebook’s newsfeed settings (as confusing as they are), we’re able to pick and choose the people we care about and the lives we affect.

I really wish I had acted against my selfish tendencies at lunch today. I really wish I had sat down next to her to eat my sandwich and make some empty comment about the weather or allergies or whatever just so that she’d know I at least saw her. Jesus says in Matthew 25 that He’ll welcome God’s people for having visited people who were sick, estranged, or in prison, something kind of like sitting with someone who looked lonely and commenting about the weather. No, I’m not beating myself up for a missed opportunity; I’m saying it was missed opportunity because I want to get it right next time and every time after. I want be effective at loving others as God has loved me.

Sometimes I feel like a third-grader reading a book together with the rest of the class when the teacher asks for a volunteer and I’m simply avoiding eye-contact so I won’t have to read. But instead of the teacher asking for a volunteer, I am asking for a volunteer. And instead of reading a book, we’re helping people. And instead of avoiding the teacher’s eyes, I’m avoiding God’s eyes because I am asking who’ll feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the lonely, heal the sick, and so on and I can feel Him looking right at me. I don’t want to turn around because I’m afraid it will be me having to help.

In Mark 6:30-44, Jesus’ disciples seem a little upset that their rest was being disrupted by the thousands of people eager to hear Jesus teach. They told Him to send the crowds away so they could eat, but Jesus flips it around on His disciples: You give them something to eat,” (6:37). His disciples are dumbfounded and tell him no one could afford that much bread. All the while they forgot the Apostles were empowered to cast out demons and heal sick people – literally the same chapter. But I guess feeding people is more challenging than casting out demons…

My point is that we have a tendency to sit around and wait for someone else to reach out to the socially unfavorable while God is looking us in the eye saying, You go and do it.” And then we have the audacity to say, “But God, there’s no way I could reach them; I’d have to hang out with them and learn what they like and maybe even root for a sports team I hate. Clearly, you got the wrong guy.” All the while we, just like the disciples, ignore the power God has given us – a power that compelled Paul to say, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me,” (Phil. 4:13).

If it sounds like I’m a little frustrated with myself, I kind of am. I’ve been at this Christian thing for eleven years and I’m still making rookie mistakes. But like I said above, I’m not writing about my failures to beat myself up; I’m trying to get them right. Of all the things in the world that I could be good at, loving as God has loved me is the most important. As Paul says:

If I speak in tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing,” – 1 Cor. 13:1-3

It’s all for nothing if you don’t love. And I don’t mean loving those who love you back or the popular, rich, and powerful. I’m talking about the ones no one else sees. We – those among us who proclaim Jesus as their everything – are the light of the world; therefore, we see everyone, not just the people we want to see.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it,” – John 1:5

May we take a lesson from Mark 6; that our lives are not about ourselves, but rather the people around us. And it need not be more complicated than asking someone how things are going or talking about the weather. Love ’em, for the love of God.

God bless.

Exhaustion by Full Engagement…

Between Friday and Saturday I worked nearly 24 hours (22 1/2 to be exact). When I woke up Sunday morning for church, it took every bit of will power not to go back to sleep (well, will power and knowing that someone was getting pranked by chocolate-covered meatballs tossed in powdered sugar – I’ll explain later). All throughout the morning I was flat-out exhausted.

In all honesty, I like those days. Working eight, nine, or even twelve hours in a single day gives me some weird sense of joy and accomplishment. When I was thinking about it on Sunday morning, though, I didn’t really understand why I was so tired. Sure, I was clocked in for a long time Friday and Saturday, but the actual amount of time that I worked was about two-thirds of the time I was clocked in. It simply didn’t feel like I did very much. And then my pastor, Scott Lamb, told me why.

“It was because you were fully engaged for that time.”

Why did this stick with me? Because deep down, mixed in with the desire to go back to school, is the desire to work. I know, who actually wants to work? Work is lame. You have to, like, work and stuff. Yet every time I envision where I am in twenty years or what I’d like to be doing, I picture ten and twelve hour days. I picture myself coming home being almost completely drained. Yet, the more I think about it, I don’t want a job or a career. I simply want something in which I am fully engaged.

Minutes after my chat with Scott, he gave a message out of John 1, talking about how Jesus became fully human and yet was fully God (still a difficult concept to grasp). “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us,” (1:14a, NIV). There was no part of being human that Jesus did not experience. Toothaches, stomachaches, heart breaks, hunger, thirst, loneliness, betrayal – you name a basic human emotion or physical feeling and He probably felt it, “yet without sin,” (Hebrews 4:15, ESV). In other words, in Jesus, God was fully engaged with humanity, yet fully Himself.

A show that I have recently been in love with is The West Wing. I know it’s fiction and I know it’s a very sugar-coated style of politics, but I freaking love it. Why? Because throughout the average day of anyone in the West wing of the White House, there is never not something going on. Meeting after meeting, speech after speech, crisis after crisis – President Bartlett and his staff always have something to tackle. “What’s next?” is President Bartlett’s go-to phrase. Every day that they show up to work, they have to be fully engaged. Otherwise they won’t be able to do their job.

Why should it be any different for me? Or for you? Or for anyone who dares to follow God to the places and people He’s calling them? Why should our purpose be pushing the cruise control button and sitting back to relax? Sure, most days are kind of boring, but that should never be an excuse not to be fully engaged with what we’re doing. And yes, I have used that excuse before; I’m not calling anyone else out except for me.

Josh Lyman, a character on The West Wing, said something during the first season that I’ve since found challenging, “The White House can affect more change in a single day than the average person can in their entire lifetime.” When it comes to living God’s kingdom and making earth “as it is in heaven,” shouldn’t the Church (the global body of Christ) be the ones saying that? Shouldn’t we be able to affect more change in a single day by the power vested in us – the Holy Spirit – than someone without Christ can in their entire lifetime?

No, I’m not saying you’re doing things wrong if you aren’t making big changes at a rapid rate. One element to the way God brings about change in someone’s life is time. He is incredibly patient and I am incredibly stubborn – having taken years and years to understand very simple truths, like loving my neighbor and regarding others as better than myself. God is all about the long-term growth, the kind that perseveres trials and tribulations. Sure, He gets excited when someone suddenly comes to Him, but only because He can begin His long-term plan with that person. What that long-term plan requires, though, is our full engagement.

Being fully engaged is at the core of being Christian. We’re supposed to be tuned in when our coworkers, friends, and spouses vent their frustrations and anxieties. We’re supposed to have the heart and mind of Christ when someone wrongs or hurts us – even when they try to blow us or others to pieces at a marathon. And we’re supposed to have the compassion of God for others as He has had for us. Being awoken to Jesus, to the Holy Spirit, to the presence of the Lord God should be reason enough to be fully engaged with the world around us.

No, I’m not saying everyone should work themselves for the Lord until they’re completely exhausted. I’m simply saying we ought to be ready in season and out of season to share the good news of God – that there’s something better waiting for us than the greatest things of this world. God’s got something up His sleeve and He wants us to be a part of it. All we have to do is submit our whole selves to Him. We have to be fully engaged.

“‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these,'” – Mark 12:29-31

Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, and whomever you’re with, fully engage yourself.

God bless.

Jesus’ Transfiguration and Our Misinterpretation…

Jesus’ transfiguration (Matt. 17:1-8; Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36) has always been a part in the gospel stories where I see God holding himself back, in a way. He’s too bright, too magnificent, too much for us to handle, so he has to tone it down a bit by appearing in human form. And the aspect of this story that I would always reference was how Jesus’ disciples fell to the ground. But what I didn’t realize until tonight – while reading N.T. Wright’s Simply Jesus – was that this story isn’t about how awesome Jesus is (though it could be implied). In fact, my whole way of viewing Scripture (and I think the same goes for a good portion of Christians) was slightly wrong.

Okay, “slightly” is an understatement. And no, I’m not talking about inerrancy or any other of an endless number of doctrines, systematic theologies, or dogmas. I’m talking about the Western society in which I was raised and how it tainted the way I ought to approach Scripture. All of this comes from Wright’s book, of course, which might make one wonder if Wright wasn’t somehow sneaking his own agenda by me without me noticing. I find that is not at all his intent. He, like me, is out for a deeper understanding of God. Such an understanding, though, is rendered impossible when Scripture is treated as a proof-text to validate or invalidate our previously-conceived beliefs.

An example would be saying the Bible is true then going through said Bible and finding all the verses where it says the Bible is true. This is an extremely vague example, but you see my point? We take passages like Jesus’ transfiguration and make creedal statements about his divinity and how it works and what it looks like. Like I said above, I took this passage as a way of viewing God as too much for me to handle – God in his nature and me in mine, that is. I’m not saying Jesus isn’t divine; I’m saying, as Wright says, that proving or disproving Jesus’ divinity – or any other doctrine we may believe – is not the purpose of Scripture. Scripture is meant to be one giant megaphone announcing God’s existence, presence, and intentions with each of us. Scripture announces how we might be able to be our true selves.

What is actually going on with Jesus’ transfiguration, then? As N.T. Wright says, it’s a foreshadow of what’s to come – of what kind of people we will be made into. “It forms part of a new set of signposts, Jesus-shaped signposts, indicating what is to come: a whole new creation, starting with Jesus himself as the seed that is sown in the earth and then rises to become the beginning of that new world,” (Simply Jesus, 144). He also points out that, “Moses and Elijah were ‘transfigured’ too,” which seems to indicate what our future natures will be (perhaps this was the “new creation” Paul was talking about in Galatians 6:15?). So instead of this being a passage about how overwhelming God’s nature is compared to ours; it’s a memo from God saying this is the kind of nature he’s adorning us in. He’s telling us who we will be.

It wasn’t just that my interpretation of Scripture was a little wrong for this story; it was that my entire mindset was flawed – my internal need to “prove” my view with this passage of Jesus’ divinity. Such a mindset is difficult to overcome when we have books with titles like Doctrine: What Every Christian Should Believe and countless books on apologetics, systematic theology, and so on. Some of our most outspoken church leaders have attained their notoriety due to their ability to defend Christianity. Mention Rob Bell’s name next time at church and wait for someone to say they think he’s “biblically unsound” or that he has a flawed theology (not that Rob Bell is considered an apologist; he’s usually the one receiving flack from prominent Christian leaders). These buzz words and phrases cause us to view Scripture in terms of doctrine and theology – not in terms of what Scripture might actually be trying to tell us.

“My problem with ‘proofs of divinity’ is that all too often, when people have spoken or written like that, it isn’t entirely clear that they have the right “God” in mind. What seems to be “proved” is a semi-Deist type of Christianity – the type of thing a lot of Christians in the eighteenth century, and many since then, have thought they should be defending. In this sort of Christianity, “God” is in heaven and sends his divine second self, his ‘Son,’ to ‘demonstrate his divinity,’ so that people would worship him, be saved by his cross, and return with him to heaven. But in first-century Christianity, what mattered was not people going from earth into God’s kingdom in heaven. What mattered, and what Jesus taught his followers to pray, was that God’s kingdom would come on earth as in heaven.” – Wright, Simply Jesus, 148

Even the workbook some members of my church and I have been going through, The Tangible Kingdom Primer, gets at this idea – that God’s kingdom has invaded not to destroy earth and bring everyone back to heaven, but to bring heaven (God’s kingdom) to and through earth, to give it a permanent residence within God’s creation. Not only should this change how we live, but it changes how we approach Scripture. Can you imagine how undivided the Church – the global, catholic church (not just the RCC) – might be if we focused on how we lived instead of how we defined certain terms in our belief statements?

One more big quote from N.T. Wright:

“It has been all too possible to use the doctrine of the incarnation or even the doctrine of the inspiration of scripture as a way of protecting oneself and one’s worldview and political agenda against having to face the far greater challenge of God taking charge, of God becoming king, on earth as in heaven. But that is what the stories in the Bible are all about. That’s what the story of Jesus was, and is, all about. That is the real challenge, and skeptics aren’t the only ones who find clever ways to avoid it,” – 149 (emphasis mine)

I don’t know if my interpretation of Jesus’ transfiguration was a clever way of avoiding the challenge of God taking charge, but I hope you see his point. Much of our Christian society is defined by what we believe, which denomination we’re a part of, and so on – not whom do we believe in or which kingdom we’re a part of. What my earlier interpretation failed to acknowledge was what actually caused Jesus’ disciples to fall at his feet:

“[Peter] was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.’ When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, ‘Rise, and have no fear.'” – Matthew 17:5-7

God’s voice is too much for us to handle. And yet we attempt to put him in these neatly-packaged theological boxes and define our involvement within church or within Christianity in general by these belief packages. We don’t realize our error because we have prominent leaders affirming what we do – even teaching us how to do them better! But, as Wright says, maybe the bigger thing for us to do is to let go. Maybe God doesn’t want us becoming great apologists; maybe he just wants us to love others as he has loved us?

God bless.

P.S. Two things: 1. I would never discourage theological conversations; we must love God and each other with all our minds and 2. Defending beliefs has moments of importance, but should never be the defining factor to one’s faith; that is the point of this blog.

Starting With God…

“And rising very early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went to a desolate place, and there he prayed,” – Mark 1:35

For the past year and a half or so, I’ve had a pretty consistent, early-morning schedule for work – with this past week being an exception. And although I’ve moved around Eugene a couple times, my morning routine has remained relatively the same: Get up, eat breakfast, drink a cup of coffee, hop in the shower, get dressed, pour more coffee into a travel mug and then head off to work. If I’m paying attention, it only takes me half an hour or forty minutes to do all that. But on several occasions in the past month or so, I’ve added something to that routine. I’ve added God.

One morning I woke up around 5:30 and could not go back to sleep. So I simply got up and went about my routine. When I was ready to off to work – a solid hour and fifteen minutes early – I decided I’d read a chapter of Proverbs. And when I flew through that, I read a chapter from John’s Gospel. When I still had extra time, I jotted down a few notes for blog outlines and set a small to-do list for when I was off of work. When it came time to head out the door, not only did I feel more productive, I felt more awake.

Yes, the coffee helped. But coffee doesn’t make you more aware of spiritual realities in a material world. God does. And when you start with reading Scripture – and actually paying attention to what you’re reading – and praying, you set your mind onto more important things. Your mindset becomes that of someone dwelling in a different kingdom. You begin saying kinder things to your coworkers, literally helping your neighbors “just because,” or even sending quick messages to friends and family members reminding them that you care about them – nothing dramatic, but yet powerful.

If you think about all the things you do for your morning routine, there’s always a purpose for each one. I eat breakfast so I have energy to go about the day. I drink coffee so that I have even more energy to go about the day. And I shower, brush my teeth, and get dressed so that working with me is more enjoyable (or at least less miserable?). Why do all these things matter? They matter because I value my job, my involvement with my surrounding communities, and what kind of reputation and legacy I’m leaving behind. But what matters more?

Paul tells us to do everything for the glory of God. That means even the menial work we do at our jobs. No, God doesn’t want me to sell more Duck gear; but He does want me to interact with my coworkers (and customers) in a manner that reflects Him. In order to do that, though, I must practice acting like Him. Wouldn’t it be helpful, then, if I started my day with Him?

I don’t think it matters how much of our mornings we spend with God, but rather that we spend time with Him. God is extremely personal and relational. His desire is to know us and for us to know Him. Working jobs, serving our communities, and whatever else we do all come as a by-product of seeking Him. If the routines to start our day don’t include Him, then we’re less likely to act like Him.

I’d like to advise certain ways of seeking Him like praying in the shower or on the drive to work, but frankly, those only work for certain people at certain points. I used to pray on the drive to work, but it’s become exceedingly difficult because there are other cars that through off my focus – kind of like how they interrupt those phone calls or text conversations (sarcasm). And praying the shower can amp up the water usage and takes away hot water for roommates (sorry Mikey), so that’s not the best route, either. All I recommend is find a time at the start of your day to find God.

Doesn’t need to be twenty minutes or a half hour; just long enough that you feel Him surround you. And it does need to be focused so if reading Scripture on your phone or tablet becomes too much of a distraction, then turn them off or simply read from your paperback Bible (I know, old school). Even if all you can muster is a mere two minutes, it’d be worth it.

God bless.