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] (emphasis mine)

What Did I Learn? First Semester Seminary Reflections…

Since my second semester at George Fox began this week, I’ve been forced to recount most of what was covered in the fall. It then dawned on me that while I wrote a few posts about a couple of things here and there, I didn’t write one overviewing the whole term. Nor did I write one about what I learned.

What did I learn?

I learned that Hebrew is an incredibly efficient language. Despite being weird with the whole right-to-left-reading thing, it can pack so much meaning into so few characters. Once you start to get the hang of how the consonants are pronounced and how the grammar works (took me four months and I’m still learning it), it’s actually a fun language to translate. Not only do I have a greater appreciation and respect for the scholars who were picked to translate it all into English, but I have a newfound desire to learn other ancient languages as well.

I learned that if Jesus were to come again in the way He did 2,000 years ago, He’d most likely come back as an Indian. No, not an India-Indian; a Native American Indian (despite what we’re taught, being “politically correct” isn’t a high priority amongst Native American peoples; learning and respecting each tribe as its own people is). But if we take Jesus at His word in Matthew 25:31-46 (His “least of these” speech), then there is no doubt in mind He already has appeared as an Indian. We were just too busy with our Western society to notice.

Even though I took this indigenous spirituality class as an elective and it was only one credit, it was still one the most challenging classes I’ve had – not by workload, per se, but definitely by the hard truth.

What’s that hard truth?

I am part of a society that values land by what can be built on it rather than the life contained within it. I am still under the spell of consumerism – that unspoken belief that peace, joy, and happiness are found in commodities (the term “retail therapy” comes to mind). And I still find myself making judgments about people based off of what they wear, how they look, and what they say rather than what they do.

Yes, I learned that the native peoples of this land our European ancestors stole (no, it wasn’t us, but we are “down stream” of them) are more like Jesus than I ever realized before. And in many other ways, we Americans are the ones who need to change.

I learned that a little lesson in biblical criticism goes a long way – even if you have no desire of being a scholar. In my Old Testament class, we talked about how we view the Bible, how nuanced the discussion around sexuality really is, and how damaging we can be when we try to fit girls and guys into these “gender roles” that never really fit anyone perfectly, but only had the illusion of fitting. We talked about how vital is to be critical of the theologies, doctrines, dogmas, and social customs we inherit.

In my first semester of seminary, I learned that my perspective is not your perspective. Yours is not inherently wrong, nor is mine inherently right. Instead, both are valued. God values both of us – all of us – so much so that He died for us. He died for your age, your race, your gender, your sexuality, your skin color, and even your marital status just as much as He died for mine. And I (re)learned that the life of Jesus is spread by how we love each other.

Yes. I know. It’s something I have been reading in Scripture for the last twelve years. But I think (and hope) it is finally starting to sink in.

By learning a ton about others, I learned a lot more about myself. Of course, I hope to unpack all that as this semester rolls along with all the things it has in store as well (especially stuff that doesn’t deal with seminary directly; like attending a Catholic church for the first time or Jesus feminism or our gay brothers and sisters, etc.).

Hopefully, I’ll keep my eyes and ears open.

God bless.

P.S. Recommended readings from my first semester: Neither Wolf, Nor Dog & The Wolf at Twilight both by Kent Nerburn; Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey; and this one’s kind of random, but The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

From a Pow Wow to Church…

For my Indigenous Spirituality class, we attended a Pow Wow near Salem at the Chemawa Indian School. Being born in Salem and never knowing my Cherokee father, there was a lot of symbolism in attending my first Pow Wow near Salem, but that’s another subject for another time. What is important here is the experience of a Pow Wow and how it is largely different from my church experience. And after attending church for the first time since moving from Eugene, these comparisons are fresh on my mind.

There was a lot to take in when I first walked into the gymnasium. Drums were blaring so hard I could feel the beat in my chest, burnt sweet grass filled my nostrils, and kids dressed in traditional Native attire (and also many who weren’t) were running around everywhere. Once the Pow Wow began, a classmate of mine pointed out the ten different drumming groups present, some were from different tribes not local to Oregon. As the opening dance began, I couldn’t help but notice the different races, ages, and genders all partaking in the dance.

After a couple songs were sung, attendees were invited onto the floor for a “healing song.” Our professors wife peer-pressured us into dancing, so I awkwardly stepped around on the floor (definitely would not call it dancing). Despite the discomfort, no one laughed at my awkwardness or pointed out how I was doing it wrong. Instead, the focus was any pain on anyone’s heart and the song and dance combined functioned as the act of lifting up that pain to the Creator – God, as we Christians might say. It was a communal act unlike any I’ve ever experienced.

We sat back down when the song was over and moments later another series of songs were sung as people danced. The focus of this entire Pow Wow was for the Veterans of U.S. armed forces (since tomorrow is Veteran’s Day), honoring those who fell in battle, returned from the battle, those who are still missing in action, and even those veterans who never saw battle. Such a ceremony was full of respect and honor for the men and women who sacrificed so much for our freedom.

What I could not help but notice, though, was how family-oriented everyone seemed to be. As people walked back and forth from the food booths or venders to their seats, they often ran into people they knew. Babies were passed around and kids were running everywhere while men and women of many tribes and races (both Indian and non-Indian) were catching up on each other’s lives and enjoying the celebrations. Even though there were a couple hundred people there, everyone treated each other as family.

Attending church after experiencing that Pow Wow was a little awkward. For one, it’s been two months since I last gathered with a church. Be it either work or laziness or a combination of the two, I simply haven’t gone to any gathering. So that contributed to the awkwardness, but also allowed me to see just how dramatically different the Pow Wow was to the average church experience (which is essentially what this morning was).

I walked in, found a seat, stood when the worship team started to play, greeted someone when told to greet someone, sat down when the pastor came up to speak, stood again when the worship team played the closing songs, and hung out for a little when it was over. Every bit of it was familiar, but yet still largely uncomfortable.

What contributed to my comfort yesterday was the fact I was hanging out with my class – people I had met before. This morning I went to church by myself – and I knew absolutely no one. While this was a major factor into the differences in comfort between the Pow Wow and the church I attended, I still noticed how fluid the Pow Wow was and how rigid church was. For instance, kids were allowed to dance in every dance; in fact, the ones who danced the most were the kids (especially this adorable little toddler who mostly just bounced). In church, kids were only heard from their Sunday school classrooms; they weren’t out among the rest of the congregation.

I also noticed that I was the only non-white person present at church. Maybe this was because I attended the later-morning service instead of the earlier ones, but this is definitely not the first time this has happened. In the Pow Wow, however, there were plenty of non-white participants, although most simply observed from the bleachers. My classmate who sat next to me later pointed out a symbol common to most Native tribes; a circle with four colors in it (red, yellow, black, and white). This symbolizes the acceptance and unification of all races and tribes – that although we are different in appearance, we are all one in relation to each other and creation (also called the Harmony Way).

My intent isn’t to say that Pow Wows are better than church, but to say that there are areas I appreciated more from the Pow Wow than I did the church. The church service was regimented and habitual whereas the Pow Wow was much more fluid and spontaneous. Instead of singing new songs (as the church did), the drumming groups in the Pow Wow sang old songs – songs that their ancestors sang, which seemed to command a sense of reverence amongst the tribal members. And the church separated the kids out from the rest of the group while the Pow Wow wanted their kids to participate in what the adults were doing.

Again, maybe these things are personal peeves that I alone must deal with, but nevertheless I appreciated the Pow Wow more than the church service. Not to say that one group of people now has more value than the other, but to say I liked the Pow Wow style a little more. It was more personal and yet contained a greater reverence not only for the Creator, but for their ancestors and creation.

Does this mean we should change our church style? Maybe. Seeing as this particular style is shared by many other churches I’ve attended, it makes one wonder where the creative people are and how much influence they have. But who knows, perhaps this is the style that speaks more to the people who attend on a regular basis and I happen to miss out on all of that because I don’t attend? If that isn’t the case, however, perhaps it is indeed time to make some changes.

Regardless of what that church does from this point forward, I have learned quite a bit from the Pow Wow experience in addition to everything we’ve read in my Indigenous Spirituality class. And I have the responsibility to utilize and steward this knowledge to be more authentic with the people around me (regardless of age, race, gender, or any other apparent differences), more aware of how alive the earth really is (much like a sibling), and more proactive in developing relationships within my local community.

I know that not all churches are like the one I attended this morning and not all Pow Wows are like the one I attended yesterday. But from what I experienced in the ones I have attended, the church experience could take a lesson from the Pow Wows. Humanity is fluid and flawed, so why should our churches feign something different?

Be true to you, your family, and your friends around you. Or as Jesus said, love your neighbor as yourself (Matt. 22:39).

God bless.

“Biblioblogging” through Seminary…

Something interesting happened on Thursday night during my Old Testament 1 class. We had just finished our last ten minute break (it’s a three hour class) and were each given a copy of a blog post.


A blog post.

In a graduate-level seminary class.

Who wrote the post?

Peter Enns.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve become a big fan of Enns’ work. Whether or not one agrees with him, he at least has the courage to be honest in his posts. But more than that, he’s engaging. He’s a biblical scholar who teaches at Eastern University in Pennsylvania and yet he regularly writes blog posts that, more often than not, relate his academic work and studies with his faith in Jesus.

We discussed what Dr. Enns wrote in his post, which can be found here, and toward the end of the discussion, my professor mentioned how there ought to be more professors (and by extension pastors and seminarians) blogging. Of course this is no problem for me; I love to blog. But what it does mean is that the purpose of this blog may shift slightly.

A scholar like Dr. Enns writing blogs might not seem ridiculous, but, for those of you still in college, how many of your professors blog? How many people do you know blog? Chances are, not a whole lot of people.

Of course, blogs vary in style and content. There are fashion blogs, food blogs, Star Trek blogs, and especially sports blogs. This small space on the Internet acts as our place of intellectual refuge where we can share our thoughts and opinions without ever interacting with anyone who might think or feel differently. One blog written by a prominent pastor here in the Northwest has all comments closed. No questions. No discussions. Peter Enns, however, not only has the comment section open; he replies to a lot of them.

It was a little over a year and a half ago when he wrote a particular blog that spoke to me in a way that I needed. I was still in the middle of dealing with Calvary’s closure and Enns’ post, of which I forget the title, went a long way to help. I remember commenting on it, thanking him for writing it, and then asking him which seminary in the Northwest he would recommend for further studies. Not only did he reply within the hour, but he recommended George Fox (where I’m currently studying).

What does all of this mean for my blog? It isn’t a fashion, food, Star Trek, or sports blog, although I do occasionally write something on each (maybe not fashion; my sense of fashion sort of speaks for itself). For the most part, it’s a blog where I share about my faith. But what it’ll have to become, at least for this seminary season (but hopefully beyond), is what’s called a “biblioblog.”

A biblioblog is a fun word to say. It’s also a blog wherein biblical studies (and anything related) are discussed. What I’ve admired the most about Peter Enns’ blog is that he doesn’t try to separate his faith from his academic work. In fact, much of his faith comes from his academic studies – not that he never goes to church and only resides in his office, but that it is thought-driven. As he dives deeper into his study of the Scriptures, he draws closer to God.

My walk with God operates in a very similar fashion. If the doctrine of inerrancy hadn’t caused such a stir for Calvary Fellowship several years ago, then I don’t imagine my faith in God would have delved very deeply. In fact, I don’t know if I’d still be much of a believer. I’m sure I’d still be attending church and listening to sermons and Christian songs. But there wouldn’t be much beyond that. My “faith” would become like the seed that fell on rocky ground; it grew up quickly, but withered away when trouble came (Matt. 13:20-22).

In essence, I hope to share my thoughts and feelings as I draw closer to God by way of study. So as I work through my classes (“Indigenous Spirituality,” “Knowing Self, Knowing God,” “Introduction to Biblical Hebrew,” and “Old Testament 1”) I hope to share how God’s working through it all. What I really hope for, though, is to a create an online space of discussion where questions are asked and faith is shared.

I may not post as often as I would like  or really with any consistency (school and work come first). And I may write something you disagree with. But that’s a major part of this blog: To discuss faith in Jesus.

As the Road to Emmaus story (Luke 24:13-27) shows us, faith in God is every bit of an intellectual journey as it is a physical, emotional, and spiritual one. The tough part is to keep walking.

God bless.

To Trust or Not To Trust?

Over the past three or four months, I’ve been studying through the book of Isaiah with Tony Overstake, U of O’s FCA pastor. In our discussion today we talked about what it means to say that we trust God. This might seem like a no-brainer and not worthy of a 30-minute discussion, but Tony raised a good point: What do we trust in God for?

Keep in mind that this is a pastor who’s been leading people in the faith for a good number of years – at least 8, but if he’s reading this, then it changes to whatever number makes him feel ancient, which he is. Anyhow, my point with this is to say his questioning isn’t for the purpose of debunking the existence of God or some confession that he’s falling away from faith. In fact, it’s in the effort to deepen his faith that he raises the discussion.

What do we really trust God for? Jobs? Spouses? Acceptance into seminaries? Asthma medication? In essence, we typically say that we trust in God for His provision, which is true, but isn’t it possible, hypothetically speaking, to provide for ourselves?

An example is if I were to get fired from my job today, what would I do? I’d probably write a mean blog post, call my old bosses a bunch of mean names, and then delete the post later on (like a minute later, probably). But after that, I’d probably do the sensible thing and figure something out for a new job. And chances are I’d eventually figure something out. So where is God’s hand in all the mix?

Again, it’s a Devil’s-advocate sort of question, but I think it’s helpful to recognize the meaning of the phrases we so often take for granted. Oftentimes we use the Christian buzzwords of forgiveness, repentance, belief, faith, or trust (and there are many, many more) without really knowing or understanding their meaning. So what does it mean when we say that we trust God? What are we trusting Him for if we’re capable of providing for ourselves?

I know, I know, the scenario breaks down if I were to get hit by a car and be paralyzed from the neck down – all of a sudden I wouldn’t be able to provide for myself. But even in that case, I know I have loving friends who’d step in to help. So even then I’d still be cared for. Where’s God’s hand in that?

What Tony and I kept arriving to, though, wasn’t God’s involvement in our every day lives, which we both believe He is, but rather the posture of the heart. When we say we are thankful for God’s provision, we are saying that there is something outside of ourselves at work within ourselves. “For he makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust,” (Matt. 5:45). God causes it for everyone, but only a few recognize it. Even fewer say so.

Of course this turns the issue toward the fact of God causing pain and suffering, but I’ll save the bulk of that issue for another time. What I felt needed to be said here is that our posture is everything. If we believe that we don’t need God and can be fully satisfied and provided for within ourselves, then our lives are going to reflect that. We’ll be self-sufficient and independent and all that jazz. But when our strength fails or when our hearts give out, which they will, what happens then? What happens when we no longer have a choice over our spiritual posture? All I can really say at this point is that I’d rather not find out.

I suppose it comes down to a choice; either we choose to trust ourselves or to trust God, ready to give thanks to Him for what He has done – even if it is merely allowing us to live.

What do you think it means when we say we trust in God? Has become an empty buzzword or does it have the deepest of meanings?

“Give thanks in all circumstances,” (1 Thess. 5:18)

God bless.

Reading to Mean Something…

“Just out of curiosity, how many of us read our Bibles?” Scott, my pastor, asked our Villages group last night. It was a serious question that he didn’t want us to feel guilty over. And we weren’t. We all admitted that we have read some Scripture in recent weeks, but overall we could be reading a little more. “Sporadic” was frequently used when we went person by person around the room – including myself.

I wrote a post a few weeks ago about the importance of starting each day with some time devoted to God. Whether it was two minutes or twenty minutes, I had said that starting with God – allowing Him to envelope you with His presence – was the most important thing. When I had written that post, I made up my mind to devote my mornings to Him and read more Scripture. It helped, for two-ish days. And once my work schedule had changed, my reading or praying withered to almost not at all. In a matter of days.

I’m not pointing this out to publicly beat myself up (although Jim Carrey in Liar Liar does it really well). I bring it up because I have noticed a definite correlation between the amount of Scripture I read and how Christ-minded I am when at work or the grocery store or just out driving. Actually, I should say how not Christ-minded I am when around others. It’s like I’m a different person.

You probably couldn’t even notice it, either. I’d still be polite and kind and probably have a good thing to say about God or two. Maybe I’d share a thought from a Scripture I had read weeks ago or something from a pastor’s sermon I found deep and really spiritual or whatever. You wouldn’t notice because I have these habits so heavily engrained in my day-to-day walk that they have begun to lack meaning. If I can help it, I don’t want anything I do to lack meaning, especially carry out God’s love.

Again, I’m not trying to get anyone’s pity. It’s not the end of the world that I don’t read my Bible as often as I should. But that’s just it; I don’t do a lot of things as I should. I believe that is the bigger problem. And what I can’t help but notice is that the only remedy is Jesus. If I’m not seeking Him on a day-to-day basis (heck, barely on a once-a-week basis as of late), then how in the world am I going to be able to do things as I should?

Here again comes that indirect challenge from Scott – who, by the way, admitted that he’s also been reading less than he’d like (then again, his wife did just give birth… his wife who read her Bible on the day their baby was born, probably while she was giving birth). Reading our Bible isn’t the thing that’s going to make us change, sure, but it’s a start. After all, who’s the Bible about? God. His Son Jesus. The work of the Holy Spirit. If we want to get into tune with what God has done, is doing, and will do in the future, we can start with Scripture.

As Scott reminded us last night; the goal isn’t to get us to check another thing off some imaginary list. When we stand before God, He isn’t going to say, “All of that sinning sure looks bad, but hey, you did read your Bible on a daily basis, so you’re good to go.” The whole goal with Bible reading, prayer, community, giving, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting the prisoners isn’t to build a golden spiritual résumé where God awards us an honorable spot in heaven’s hierarchy. It’s to let our light shine before others so that God may be praised.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven,” – Matthew 5:14-16

In order to advance God’s kingdom; to become a more Christ-like person, a better coworker, friend, relative, teammate; and to allow the Helper, the Holy Spirit, more room to roam, we who love Jesus must practice His characteristics. What helps to practice those characteristics? Reading Scripture and seeing how He did things. Praying for eyes to see even further than we can in our current spiritual position. Gathering with a fellowship as they did in Acts to share what we have so that no one lacks anything. Especially meaning.

God gives life to us, which means He gives meaning to us. If we want to mean something to somebody – really anybody – we must get it from the Source of Meaning. Scripture is chock-full of His meaning.

Do not feel guilty if you’re like me and haven’t been reading much of your Bible. That isn’t the goal; the goal is to do something and be somebody with what we read.

God bless.