Thoughts in a Day: Some Reflections

It has been a full day (though many feel that way). It has also been a good day. I was just reflecting on some of the happenings of the day and the goodness of God through it all.

  • A video chat with a friend not seen nearly often enough who is ministering elsewhere in the world and just needing some encouragement, an ear to hear, and prayers shared.
  • Sitting with my daughter Abbi (who skipped a class at the high school) in chapel to hear a missionary testifying about their calling to share Jesus. And knowing that she is stirred (as I am) to share Jesus to the ends of the earth.
  • Running into a man who recognized me as the mission leader that brought a team of Americans to work in another country where he was an intern placed in my team. He shared the way that was a decisive time for him and how he has given the rest of his life to serving full-time in missions.
  • Intending to go to coffee only to discover a student waiting patiently for me at my office to discuss a Scripture that they are wrestling with and finding themselves overcome by this Word as we read, meditate, discuss, consider, and reflect on the text before us to hear what the Spirit is saying.
  • Making a new friend who also loves Muslim peoples and invited me to do some writing with him for others on this topic.
  • Interviewing a couple of ministerial students as they share their callings and journey toward vocational ministry where our Biblical and Theological Studies faculty speak prophetically over them and offer heart-felt prayers for them.
  • Discussing the traumas of specific people in a class on Jeremiah where words seemed to fail as we felt some manner of the weight of judgment, sorrows, and pain and the manner in which the LORD takes these up into himself in suffering alongside us and for us.
  • Participating in a faculty in-service meeting led by a great missionary leader who shared his own testimony of God’s calling for him to “stay” as a mobilizer of others and hearing my own journey in those words (even as we are both committed to “going”).
  • Hearing a student who was so moved by a sermon last year in chapel that they have been on a quest to become a voice for the voiceless and thus led a couple of hours of spirited discussion among faculty, staff, students and community members regarding our responsibilities to be just and live justly reflecting Jesus in all spheres of life.

I find my heart full and my thoughts tracing through this day. I’m grateful. And God is good.

Sanctified Defilements: Cleansing Blood

This Sunday I will be preaching from Mark 5:21-43 concerning the raising of Jairus’ dead 12 year old daughter and the healing of the unclean woman with 12 years of bleeding. Such stories are all the more striking in light of the OT and Jewish traditions regarding purity. To touch the dead (as Jesus does with the girl) and to be touched by the unclean (as Jesus is by the woman) should defile Jesus. However, these stories don’t describe such (taking for granted the obvious nature of such). Instead, they point to the restoration, cleansing, and healing that is conveyed.

While Jesus would indeed be defiled by touching the girl and being touched by the woman, the radical nature of these stories points in the opposite direction: the cleansing and wholeness being imparted from Jesus to the girl and woman. In fact, I would contend Jesus offers cleansing precisely through his self-sacrificial taking on their uncleanness.

“The Resurrection of Jairus’ Daughter” (1871) by Vasiliy Polenov

In light of this movement by Jesus, it makes the taking of communion (or Eucharist) all the more powerful. The Church is instructed to consume Jesus’ body and blood in the elements of bread and cup. This would be an ultimate defilement for this community grafted into Israel. And yet this very act constitutes a testimony to the cleansing, healing life of Jesus constituting this community by His Spirit bringing to bear His presence in their midst.

“In the OT the partaking of blood in any form, even blood in meat, was strictly forbidden….However, in the Eucharist, the meal that commemorates the making of the new covenant, believers partake of the bread and wine, elements that represent the body and the blood of the Lord Jesus (Matt. 26:27-28; Mark 14:23-24).  By eating these elements a believer shares in the benefits of Jesus’ death (1 Cor. 10:16; 11:25; Heb. 9:15-22).  The discourse in John 6:52-59 is amazingly radical in its vivid imagery.  Jesus boldly speaks of eating his flesh and drinking his blood …. The intent of these words in John is … to pronounce boldly that in partaking of these elements a believer commemorates Jesus’ death and enters into the deepest communion with his Lord.” (John E. Hartley, Leviticus [WBC 4; Dallas: Word, 1992], 279-280)

The bearing of the unclean (his flesh and blood), by the grace of the Lord, becomes the receiving of cleansing … and the communion of saints is made saints by the Spirit of Holiness imparting the life of the cursed one hung on a tree, buried, and raised. Further, in his resurrection, Jesus did not pass through any cleansing rite upon being raised, yet shares meals with his disciples repeatedly and invites faith-confirming contact. How could Jesus be clean? It is the uncleanness of his death that cleanses and gives life in the testimony of God raising him. Jesus is declared (and even made) clean by his being raised. The very nature of his being cursed and unclean willingly has become the very thing which the Father uses to heal and make clean. In the book of Acts it is the testimony of Son and Spirit to Peter that what God has made clean should not be called unclean (Acts 10).

In Christ Jesus a new day has dawned wherein bearing uncleanness is the way to cleansing. And this is the faithfulness of our Great God and Savior! And this is the testimony of the Church in the midst of the world!

Goin' Fishin': A Brief Comment on John 21:11

Fishing in the TiberiasI was asked today why John 21.11 notes there were 153 large fish caught by Jesus’ disciples in this resurrection appearance. Here is my brief answer:

St. Augustine (in his Commentary on Psalm 50) notes that the number 153 refers to completeness of the Law and Spirit: the law being 10 and the Spirit seven(fold) with their sum being 17. If one takes the sum of the numbers 1 through 17 one gets 153. Case closed. 😉
I still contend it was the memory of a fisherman who notes the actualities of this miracle where there were 153 large fish and the net did not break (as it would be prone to do). A bountiful provision well beyond imagination. And Jesus didn’t need any of it to begin cooking them a fish breakfast, though he invites them to bring him some of their catch as well.
While any number of speculations have been offered for the meaning of the number 153 (imagination can be an incredible thing), the text is simply silent about it’s intent. The miracle returns to the super-abounding grace of God given through Christ Jesus as had happened at the wedding at Cana in chapter 2.1-12.
The goodness of God in Christ is more than sufficient to provide more than one could ever imagine or think to need. This drives the faith demanded by this gospel account (20.31): trust in this one as God’s own self-giving who would send the Spirit in super-abundance that He might remain with and in those who were His as a continuing witness to, in, for, and against the world.

Hearing and Seeing the Apocalypse: A Sunday School Introduction

The following are my brief notes written as a Sunday School introduction for adults to the book of the Revelation that I taught May 13, 2018 at New Life Assembly of God in Ellendale, ND.
What is “apocalypse”? It is a “revealing” of something. This book belongs to a broader genre of writings known to the second temple period of Jewish writings (and early Christian writings) that involved visions, dreams, angelic guides, experiences of the heavenly realm/s all with an eye (and ear) toward the culmination of all things wherein God will set everything right in final judgment (with reward and punishment).
Introduction (1.1-3) – What is the point of this book? Jesus! And remaining faithful to Jesus no matter what comes as God’s self-giving revelation testified to in the Spirit. If we get distracted by anything else in the Revelation than we miss the very point.
Traveling with John the Revelator (these reveal one cannot follow John of their own accord toward understanding)

  • In the Spirit on the Lord’s Day (1.10)
  • In the Spirit in Heaven (4.2)
  • In the Spirit in the Desert (17.3)
  • In the Spirit to a great and high mountain (21.10)

On “hearing” and “seeing” in the Apocalypse

  • 1.3 – Blessed are those who hear… others of the seven beatitudes (14.13; 16.15; 19.9; 20.6; 22.7, 14)
  • Overcomers “hear” in faithfulness and obedience: 2.7, 11, 17, 26-29; 3.5-6, 12-13, 21-22.
  • Hearing and seeing function to highlight and expound (offering interpretations and expansions of each other to further the knowing and worship of those who would hear and see), examples: 1.10-20; 5.1-14; 7.1-17.

A hearing and seeing of sevens (suggesting there is much more than what meets the ears and eyes in the enumeration):

  • Horns and Eyes/Spirits (5.6)
  • Churches (and their angels: 2-3)
  • Seals on the scroll (5-8.5)
  • Trumpets (8.6-11.19)
  • Thunders (silenced: 10.3-4)
  • Bowls with plagues (15-16.21)

The Fig Tree Withers: A Sermon

withered_tree1The following is a sermon I preached at Faith Assembly of God in Lisbon, ND on Sunday, March 25, 2018.

“Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry.
Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.” Matthew 21:18-19 (NIV)

“The Fig Tree Withers” (Matthew 21:18-19)

Sometimes It Causes Me to Tremble: Reflections on Mark 16.1-8

Following the lectionary, I preached the Gospel portion from Mark 16.1-8 this morning. This may not seem strange to others, but for a Pentecostal preacher to end before the well known long ending of Mark is tantamount to heresy (not really, but it is a rare phenomenon that cuts against the grain). The Gospel of Mark ends quite abruptly in certain of the manuscript traditions (the one I believe better represents the earliest final form; on the variants and textual witnesses see the NET notes). The longer endings which most are familiar with offer appearances of Jesus, empowerment and calling to mission, and the successful engagement of the good news to the ends of the earth. But that is not where the Gospel ends in the most likely origin:

“When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ” Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” (Mark 16.1-8 NIV)

In this ending there are no angels. There is no earthquake. No appearance of Jesus to any of his disciples or the women. No commission to evangelize. There are only mourning women encountering a “young man” dressed in “white” who reminds them of the words of Jesus and informs them to tell Jesus’ “disciples and Peter” to head up to Galilee where Jesus has gone ahead of them. The passage ends with silence and fear. Talk about a heavy ending. What are we to do with such an ending? (Apparently enough folks believed something needed added thus lending itself to the multiple forms of the endings preserved).
We, likewise, are left with only the witness of others speaking the words of Jesus regarding his resurrection (and soon coming). We do not ourselves encounter the risen Christ directly. It is mediated to us. We find ourselves often confused in silence and fear. But the words return, “Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen!” And we also hear the “Go, tell…”. Our hearts tremble. Our minds quake.
But this story continues on in victory. It continues to be passed on and lived out. We only hear this account because those same trembling women did in fact testify to the words concerning the risen Christ. They were faithful! The task they had been entrusted in fear becomes the task we all bear: to share the words of others to us of the risen Lord. To tremble…then testify!

Grace Is Life

Today I had a student that I am mentoring who mentioned something I said in one of my classes: “Grace is life”. I had said this as part of my response to a student’s sermon addressing grace, but never defining it in any sort of substantial sense. It seemed taken for granted. I had offered that the preaching student consider “Grace is life”. I only briefly added to this a few comments about that life being the life of God in and for us. Then I moved on with the class. This student in my office, however, wondered just what I meant by it.
Being a dad I’m good at giving far more than someone asks for. 🙂
I opened with clarifying that for me this statement flows from my readings and reflections on the work of Karl Barth. I walked the student through the basic idea of God’s freedom for, to, through, and in (and even against) us. This, for me, is grace. God remains always free in his own self-giving. We find ourselves taken up into this in God’s own self-giving in Jesus the Christ. Here is Man given freely to and for God and to and for creation. Here is God given freely to and for God and to and for creation. And always and forever this freely flowing life of God is given in God’s own love for God and our being taken up into that movement by the Spirit of Jesus.
And then tonight as I sat down to do some evening reading I happened upon this statement by Barth regarding election that seemed related to my discussion with my student:

… in the name and person of Jesus Christ we are called upon to recognize the word of God, the decree of God and the election of God at the beginning of all things, at the beginning of our own being and thinking, at the basis of our faith in the ways and works of God. (CD 2/2 p. 99)

For myself (and I pray for my students as well), I find tremendous help in these ideas for pastoral care and praxis. Grace becomes both the opportunity and possibility of life … and that life is in God’s own life. What do you think?

Sermon: Speak Up! Proverbs 31.8a

The following is a sermon I preached in Trinity chapel (Friday, January 12, 2018) that is offered as part of an interview on questions of social justice that I did for the Trinity Bible College Leadership Podcast. The audio of the sermon is included as a part of the podcast and I have also included the manuscript of the sermon for those interested (click the title below for the podcast).

SPEAK UP! (Proverbs 31.8a)

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves…” (Prov. 31:8 NLT)

This text is brought into the canon of Israel’s scriptures and thus our own as the words of an unnamed woman giving wisdom to her son Lemuel. This text is from a message of King Lemuel’s mom to him concerning wisdom specifically to ruling as a wise king. He apparently was a Gentile king because his name is nowhere in the kings of Israel and Judah. One might suppose if he heeded these words of his mother he would be indeed a great and wise king. Now given such a beginning these words ring with truth even for those who are outside of Israel proper, but who speak with the wisdom of the God of Israel. This Gentile wisdom then becomes Israelite wisdom, by the addition of this proverb to the collection of the proverbs of Israel and then for us as Christian scripture through our incorporation into Christ Jesus. This is how we come to hear that a properly wise king must speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. Such a king must not allow for those without a voice to be silenced or ignored. He must speak up and act justly towards everyone and particularly those who cannot speak for themselves. He must speak when they cannot, and having spoken up, he must act justly. Who exactly are these muted voices?

They are both those who are marginalized and those who are silenced. I will suggest to you by the marginalized, that they are the poor, the needy, and the homeless. I’m thinking here of widows and orphans … I’m thinking of children and the elderly. They stand outside of the mainstream as it was. I’m thinking here of minorities … I’m thinking here of foreigners living in a strange land. These are those marginalized of society. I’m also thinking not just of the marginalized, but the silenced. These are those who perhaps should or could have had a voice but no longer do, they have been disempowered for one reason or another. These are those who have been silenced by abuse. They feel as if their voice has been taken from them. And the wise king hears the words of his mother saying, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.”

They speak of the first silencing of a man at the hands of his own brother (Cain and Abel) even though his blood still cried out from the ground. They speak of Lamech seizing wives for himself in order to dominate others. They speak of the drowned out sufferings of the earth in the days of Noah resulting in the watery renovation of all of creation. They speak of the cries of the stranger suffering in the inhospitable hands of Sodom and her allies. They speak of the wailings of those under the whip “way down in Egypt land.” They speak of the oppressions of tribal Israel seeking a deliverer to save from the hands of her enemies. They speak of the later kings of Israel enslaving for their own for self-advancement. They speak of the needy downtrodden by the rich in Amos just to make houses of ivory for themselves. They speak of the exiles mocked to sing their happy songs of now desolate Zion. They speak of wives divorced and children abandoned in favor of property and titles. They speak of the voices silenced in blood by wicked powers … the silenced voices who spoke prophetically against those powers. And they speak still.

And I hear the voice of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Lutheran pastor, who spoke up for those who became part of his family: the Jewish people, who actually entered into his family through marriage. And he worked for their redemption and salvation in the midst of Nazi Germany. He had his opportunity to not speak up, or speak up from a distance, but he chose to speak up in Germany and he paid with his life. And I hear the voice of Martin Luther King Jr. who had a dream for this land that still is not fulfilled. I hear his voice beckoning to a culture that would silence others … that would mute the voices of those who cry out for justice and equality. I still hear their voices.

And I even still hear the voices of the children I’ve held who climbed out of the sewers in the streets of Romania. I still hear the voices of the one destitute family searching for food in a garbage city in Mexico. I still hear the prostitutes selling their body on the streets of Brussels in an attempt to make a life for themselves. I still hear the voices of Somali war refugees begging for their bread in Northern Kenya. I still hear the voices of three Rwandan widows grappling with their survival of genocide as they told the story in my church. I still hear the voices of the homeless and the impoverished in the now silenced ghettos of Chicago. I still hear the voices of women abused by their husbands and molested in their workplaces with little to say today but “me too”. I still hear the voice of my black family and friends who fear a culture set against them. I still hear the voices of the North Dakota foster children that Jenn and I have welcome into our home who were abused and rejected by their drug addicted parents. I hear and I cannot be silent! I must speak up…

And I know from the Scriptures that such voices have made their way to heaven. And they are heard! And God is not silent! He sent such a voice crying in the wilderness on behalf of those who could not speak for themselves … a voice of preparatory repentance for the soon coming King … a voice to make the path of the Lord straight where it was crooked, to level every mountain, and fill every valley. And how can we not also cry out. God is not silent. His son our King speaks. Our righteous and wise King: He speaks. And He speaks up for the poor, and He speaks up for the children, and He speaks up for the widows, and He speaks up for the lepers, and He speaks up for the demonized, and the blind, and the mute. And He even speaks up for those like Lazarus who are too long silenced in their grave. This speaking up was taken up by His Church in her care for widows and orphans as the “true religion” of James…as the message of liberation for the nations in Paul’s writings … and even in the blood washed righteous robes of the Revelation.

How can we not also cry out with the saints gathered under the altar of God Almighty “How long, O Sovereign Lord…” We must speak up for justice in the earth! We must speak up for those whose cries for justice have not been heard, whose voices have been silenced. We must speak up!

But it is exactly at this point we find ourselves at a loss. The strength of our voices … they fail us. Our hearts are not even truly in it. We don’t even know well enough how to call out for our own justice let alone the justice of others. Our voices have been silenced in sin, marginalized in pride. We don’t know how to speak up to this Holy God. We feel the weight of our brokenness, indeed, the brokenness of the whole world and our feeble voices stammer to speak, but the words escape us and our own silence sets in.

Yet the silence does not have the last word. We praise the Lord who has heard these feeble cries and He has given His own thundering voice and it speaks for us. And we have been spoken up for by one who never ceases to speak up for us before the throne of God. Indeed, our King is not silent. We have an intercessor seated at the right hand of God who speaks up for us that we might have the justice due His goodness and mercy. He speaks up for us, even for the world. Our King speaks up. The lamb who was silent before the shearers … He has raised His voice as a lion roaring in these last days. And our King He has poured out His spirit who compels us to cry out to His Father, and now our Father knowing we have been heard and will be answered in righteousness. Our voices cannot help but speak with His voice: the voice of the son, the voice of the King of heaven and earth. We pray for ourselves. We also pray for those who do not yet know well enough to speak up to God for themselves. We speak up for the poor and the hungry, widows and orphans, homeless and foreigner. We speak up for those lost in darkness, for those abandoned and forgotten, for those whom the King Himself is not silent. Our voices joining His voice, joining their voices. We speak up and we cannot be silent. We speak up and are moved to action. The voice of righteousness finds the work of righteousness. And we hear and join our voices to the psalmist’s shout.

Honor the Lord, you sons of God;
honor the Lord for his glory and strength.
Honor the Lord for the glory of his name.
Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.
The voice of the Lord echoes above the sea.
The God of glory thunders.
The Lord thunders over the mighty sea.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
the voice of the Lord is majestic.
The voice of the Lord splits the mighty cedars;
the Lord shatters the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon’s mountains skip like a calf;
he makes Mount Hermon leap like a young wild ox.
The voice of the Lord strikes
with bolts of lightning.
The voice of the Lord makes the barren wilderness quake;
the Lord shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.
The voice of the Lord twists mighty oaks
and strips the forests bare.
In his Temple everyone shouts, “Glory!”
The Lord rules over the floodwaters.
The Lord reigns as king forever.
The Lord gives his people strength.
The Lord blesses them with peace. (Psalm 29, NLT)

He speaks and He cannot be silenced. He speaks and gives strength, and He blesses with peace. And we shout Glory! He speaks and is heard. And those in His house shout Glory! He speaks and righteousness reigns. He speaks and His people do right and everyone in His house shouts Glory! The wise and great King speaks, and who can but answer: Glory! Glory! Glory!

Let it be, King Jesus, let it be. Hear this call today, to not let your voice be silenced or marginalized. The King speaks on your behalf. Speak boldly therefore, let your feeble voice be raised to the one who hears and speaks up for you. Let your King work justice in and for you. And let your cheerful voice be raised in unison with others who need the King to work justice for them also. Let His Spirit speak in and through you that they might know and enjoy life … that they might also find the voice of the wise and great King who speaks up on their behalf.

Here I invite you if you’d stand with me and the worship team would come. This is a short message. I’m inviting you to call on Jesus who answers. I’m inviting you to raise your voice for those who have yet to call on Jesus: Jesus who answers. We cannot be silent. We cannot be silent. King Jesus speaks and we speak also. We cannot be silent. We must speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves because Jesus does.

We speak up and we cannot be silent!

A Brief Pentecostal Hearing of the Lectionary: Baptism of the Lord


Jesus baptism
The readings from the Revised Common Lectionary for this coming Sunday, January 7, 2018 offer an intriguing correlation for a Pentecostal hearing of these texts in harmony.
Genesis 1:1-5; Psalm 29; Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11.
The Genesis text describes the hovering of the divine Spirit over the waters at creation leading into the calling of “light” as “day” for that first day of creation.
The Psalm (being a Canaanite hymn cast into Yahwistic adulation) imagines Yahweh enshrined above the waters as king of all: in power and majesty.
Acts finds Paul leading the Ephesian water-baptized converts into Spirit inundation that Jesus might be demonstrated as Lord.
And the Gospel reading is Jesus’ water baptism leading to the Spirit alighting upon him with the Father’s blessings.
In each of these texts it is the Lord (as Spirit) who oversees the watery baptisms and leads from the abyss of cleansing into the life of the blessed Son who reigns supreme as the glorious light of Heaven. These texts intersect one another pointing to something which a Pentecostal hearing might enjoin as demonstrating the Full Gospel message of Jesus saving, sanctifying, baptizing in the Spirit, [and healing?] as king.