"Workouts in the gymnasium are useful, but a disciplined life in God is far more so, making you fit both today and forever." -Paul

31 January 2008

In Jesus' Sights

By Matt

I listened to a bunch of Matthew (from the transfiguration to the railing against the Pharisees)

There really is something to listening to the Bible. I'm not sure what the difference is for me but it is definitely a very different experience. I think I test as a primarily visual learner but maybe the constant podcasting for the last year has made me into more of an auditory learner. But for whatever reason I feel that listening to the Gospels have given me a wide view of the form of Matthew and its themes and contours are much more visible than when I read chapter and verse.

Condemnation is pretty heavy in the chunk I heard today but all of it, and I mean all of it, is aimed at the Scribes and Pharisees and Sadducees and pretty much everyone who ought to know better. I am struck more and more how it's sheer faith and not your religious resume that gets you into God's graces. More specifically, it's faith in Christ that does it. Healing after healing, miracle after miracle, they all follow one simple pattern: the afflicted comes to Jesus knowing in his or her heart that he is the messiah, the son of God, and has the power to heal or restore or resurrect or free. He or she verbalizes their desire, Jesus recognizes their great faith and, because of that faith in him and what he can accomplish, something miraculous happens. And it's not the religious leaders getting these favors, it's everyone else. In fact, the one person Jesus lifts up as having the most faith is a Roman soldier. The oppressors, the occupiers. That's unthinkable. But he does it, Jesus calls it like it is.

Through a multitude of parables Jesus makes it very clear for whom he came. And it wasn't the ones who believe they have the monopoly on messiahs. In fact, he goes as far as to say that they're going to be the ones left out of the wedding party, the ones thrown out of the vineyard. Also unfortunately is that if there is one group of people I can identify with in the Bible, it's these guys. Born into a Christian family, baptized in the Presbyterian church a few weeks into life, and then raised in the church the rest of my life and only straying away for a few weeks here and there, I have a lot more in common with these religious know-it-alls then the prostitutes and tax collectors and Roman centurions and sick and possessed. They're the ones in Jesus' sights for his love and compassion and mercy. I'm right there with the Pharisees and Sadducees and Scribes and Herodians and all those guys. The ones who should know better but still, through heardened hearts and skulls, just don't get it.

Thank God it is as it always is with God: there is hope for all of us. In the midst of this condemnation of the religious higher-ups stands a man who embodied everything that they are but who was called by name to serve him as a witness to the resurrected Christ: Paul. As Paul himself puts it, "If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless." No one is more religious than Paul and he has the credentials to prove it. But here's what he follows up with:
But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Paul, like the whores and the traitors and the diseased and the hated, figures out what saves: not the Law, not anything we could ever hope to do, but the ridiculously simple act of turning to Christ and realizing that nothing else really matters.

28 January 2008


By Matt

I put in the Bible Experience CD today not quite sure where I was last time and lo and behold I found another condemnation/salvation reference that I had caught the first time listening but forgot to dLog about when I got to the computer. We're looking at Matthew 12:36-37 and it says: "But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."

Now I found this very interesting because we so often here that there's nothing we can do that will save us but apparently there are things we can say. It's frustrating to me that Jesus doesn't quite spell out what good things we can say to be acquitted by but if you backup a little bit earlier in the paragraph I think you get some ideas: "For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks." So, basically if you have a good heart, you'll be saying good things and maybe it's the good heart that's saving you. But doesn't God already know what's in our hearts to begin with? Why would he need to hear what we say to judge us quick or dead? That doesn't quite make sense to me.

Next I looked at Matthew 15. The Pharisees are up to their old tricks of trying to catch Jesus at some legalistic hoopla but, of course, Jesus has none of it and sticks it to 'em. The disciples, in their typical display of brilliance, point out, "Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?" (Verse 12)

Jesus replies: "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit" (13-14).

I think this obviously goes back to the parable I discussed in my previous post where Jesus talks about the parable of the good sower who sows his field and then his enemy goes and sows weeds in the same field. Here Christ is condemning those who ought to know better, the religious leaders. Kind of confirming my hypothesis so far!

22 January 2008

A Parable

By Matt

I listened to: A lot of Matthew. It's hard to keep track of the chapters and verses when you're listening :)

In Matthew 13 Jesus tells two parables about folks planting stuff and for the most part they keep the same tenor and vehicles in both metaphors. God is the good sower, the righteous are the healthy plants, and the weeds are those who work for evil. When we look at the second parable told (the one where the sower sows and then his enemy comes into the same field and sows weeds), we get this explanation from Jesus:
"As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnaces, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear."
So, yeah, that sounds like a definite stance on condemnation! However, it's not clear what separates the good from the bad. All who cause sin? I'm sure that I've done that once or twice. I know I do evil from time to time. Not a good prospect for me. But let's look at the description of the good plants: " . . . and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom." Going back to the beatitudes, those who inherit the kingdom are the poor in spirit, the persecuted, and the martyred. Hmmm.

But also in today's listening was this twice-heard phrase: "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." Jesus quotes that at the Pharisees twice after they go after him for doing something they consider against the Law but Jesus doesn't agree. Apparently it's from Hosea 6:6 and the rest of the phrase goes: "For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings." Huh. Couple that with the stories that arise from this part of Matthew where folks are believing with great faith in Jesus' ability to heal and resurrect and you have something there: people who act in faith in what God can do are saved. There is an acknowledgment that Jesus is God and powerful and can do the impossible (that makes him mighty) in them. They aren't being "saved" or "accepting Jesus as their personal lord and savior" perhaps, but they are leading righteous lives that makes them good soil for hearing and accepting what Jesus was doing in their midst and allowing that crop to come forth for the harvest.

18 January 2008

The Bible Experience

By Matt

Today's dLog post is brought to you by Joel Harris! (Fellow dLoggers are apparently awesome wedding gift givers.) Joel was kind enough to buy us The Bible Experience, the entire Bible recorded on CD with an awesome cast. After not being quite comfortable with skimming the Gospels to find events where Jesus talked about condemnation, I decided to break out the CD's and listen on the way to work. So, that was a good half hour of listening, probably could find something.


It's an amazing thing to hear Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. The words, though familiar, took on a different twist hearing them spoken aloud with a little bit of production. The power and radicalness of what Jesus says is just amazing. I'm sold on TBE and I think it's going to become a powerful part of my morning commute. I think I found something I can concentrate on and use as a devotional-on-the-go.

Anyways, let's take a look at Matthew 7:21-23, the next time Jesus says yay or nay: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' THen I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'"

Well, J, don't pull any punches, k?

This is pretty complex, but here's what I've unpacked so far. It sounds like prophesying and exorcising are good things, why wouldn't Jesus be pleased? But it's one's motivations that determines the morality of one's actions, as Mr. Deckard would say. So, let's look at 1 Corinthians 13: "If I have the gift of prophecy . . . but have not love, I am nothing." Love is the will of the father. If we do anything apart from love, we are missing the boat, hitting the cymbals in a Presbyterian rhythm. Love is the first and last in God's book.

I have to think that this is aimed at the hypocrites. The one who speak about God but have no idea who he really is. "Out of luck," might Jesus say, "are the hypocrites; for their pretense will be exposed."

And who are the hypocrites? The religious leaders, the faithful know-it-alls. Yikes.

15 January 2008


By Matt

So months ago (September really) I said I was going to start going through the Gospels and picking out stories where Jesus talks about condemnation or salvation. This all started out when last summer I was attending a Bible study and the leader said that sometimes it's necessary to make condemnation for sins a part of evangelism 'cause Jesus did it. Well, I didn't have the evidence at the time to disagree, which was my immediate reaction, so I decided that at some point I'd get to going through the Gospels and seeing if that hypothesis plays out. From all the encounters that I could remember it seemed like caring for the poor and loving one's neighbor was more important than remembering sins in Jesus' name. We'll see!

Today I skimmed Matthew up to chapter 5, the beatitudes. Right there Jesus names off two groups of folks who get to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven: the poor in spirit and those who are persecuted because of their righteousness. So that's our first instance. However, I should point out that I'm making a judgment call in equating the "kingdom of heaven" with just plain ol' heaven. After all these years I'm still not 100% clear on what the differences might be if there are any.

But anyways, right here we don't see condemnation. All of the conditions for being blessed are positive. It's not, "If you are doing drugs you won't inherit the kingdom of heaven." It's Jesus affirming positive behaviors and attitudes. But still, I think there has to be some sort of qualification here. Maybe? I mean, all you have to do is be "poor in spirit"? Is it as easy as that? I don't know. Is this for people who have already been saved? I guess I'm not sure, this doesn't seem to make a whole lot of sense to me. Does Jesus exaggerate? Is there something wrong with me that I'd be miffed that anyone who is just plain ol' poor in spirit gets to inherit heaven without any other prerequisites?

I thought I had the beatitudes nailed. Now I'm just confused. Persecution is easy enough though :)

08 January 2008

Axle said it pretty well.

By Ben

I read Isaiah 61.

This passage is essentially a prophesy of the good news of Jesus Christ. How totally amazing to have these kinds of predictions centuries before the events they describe were to take place. We say amazing, the Jews might have said otherwise in the in-between time. I can only imagine the anticipation they would have felt. After about 70 years or so, they probably started to really doubt the truth of the prophesies. Let alone 700 years.

I was talking tonight to a friend who has been going through a tough time. He is struggling with someone he knows who seems to be walking away from God, without any desire to seek divine help. My friend wanted to jump on the situation (nip it in the bud, as they say). He intended to talk with his friend tomorrow, but when we spoke, he could hardly come up with what he was going to say.

I'm in an interesting situation right now, I can't share much at this time, but I'm excited for the wild ride that my life is going to take. I am one who when I see what is coming, I want to leap into that future head first, sometimes forgetting to enjoy the present.

Sometimes we just need a little patience.

06 January 2008

Tending the Soil

by Ben

I read Isaiah 56-60.

The messages found in Isaiah rang out clearly tonight. Each chapter seemed to go back and forth as times when Israel was obedient to God and times when Israel strayed from God. It truly is the story of all of God's children. Thousands of years later, we still make the same mistakes. We still struggle with God's law and Christ's teachings. Not that we disagree with them; they are all noble enough, but that we struggle in living them out.

When was the last time anyone you know sold all of their possessions and gave the money to the poor? When was the last time you stepped out in faith and acted without knowing the result?

I'd love to be a part of a long-term mission project that meant I had to live in lousy conditions and learn how to survive in a rougher environment, but will I ever do it?

I still have trouble just keeping the Sabbath holy. Holy, that is set apart or sacred. I still invariably end up going shopping and causing someone else to work on the Sabbath. My Sabbath (usually a Friday due to working at the church), is usually just a down day, wherein little spiritual nourishment takes place.

Isaiah 58 has something to say about this seemingly simple commandment:

"13If you refrain from trampling the sabbath,
from pursuing your own interests on my holy day;
if you call the sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honourable;
if you honour it, not going your own ways,
serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs; or speaking words');" onmouseout="return nd();">
14then you shall take delight in the Lord,
and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken."

So, in keeping the Sabbath, I must learn to not go my own way. I've made the Sabbath my own, not a day set aside for God. Ouch.

Take time. Reflect on your own life. Where do you need to do some spiritual weed pulling? I'm beginning to look around at my own life and I'm seeing a field of thistles.

05 January 2008

Baby Steps

by Ben

I read Isaiah 50-55.

Have you ever had a moment where God so convicted your heart, that it caused you to react in obedience?

Tonight, as Kate and I sat talking about the future, both hopes and doubts, I sensed that I was really far from God. I told Kate about the feeling and she said a very simple, but very poignant thing: that's not where we should be while we are trying to discern.

Our discussion turned very serious and became a time of confession about our joint and individual prayer life. We agreed to setup a routine, in order to help us make God a priority in our lives. (Yes, sometimes even Youth Pastors struggle with daily prayer)

So, here I am tonight, writing, after having read a small chunk of Isaiah, finding it difficult to comment on what I read. I think it is difficult to expound on the prophets anyway, but I am truly struggling tonight.

I think maybe this is the beginning of my 40 days in the wilderness. I want to follow God, but it is difficult to find Him. Because of my own disobedience, He seems far away.

I know He is calling, so I push on to find Him. I plan to keep going, although I know that I will face strong resistance. I am saddened to know that this will take on many familiar forms. Nevertheless, I know that I have been called to walk. And as the proverb goes: a journey of 1,000 miles begins with the first step. So, let's get to it.

02 January 2008

All Is Quiet on New Year's Day

Well, truth be told, it's the day after New Year's Day. In other words, it's time to get back to work. Students are back in school, no more sleeping in, and I'm back at work. It's the time of year when everyone makes their NY resolutions and everyone online who thinks they know better spends their time making fun of people making resolutions or quoting studies that show that resolutions don't actually work. Despite that, I'm going to admit that I do have some resolutions to make, but as I've proved before the only thing I do consistently is act inconsistently.

So, before I get to resolutions, let's recap 2007. 2007, for those of you who weren't aware, was a year where God was working. Now there really isn't enough room here (or knowledge of all that in my head) so I'm going to cover some of the more specific events and lessons learned in my life in the past year.

Going way back to last January there were a couple of big events that happened there. Let's see, there was my first Princeton Forum in Nashville. A lot of that went towards how I would shape the mission trip for this summer, mainly along the lines of requiring a lot of my students in terms of preparation which went very well, but only as far as I was willing to go along with it. Then there was the DEEP Ski Retreat where the theme was about creating our identity in God. Which was a great message but I realized soon after that it fell short of getting to a good stopping point in terms of a lesson. How'd I figure that out? Because at Princeton they were giving away the audio journals and one of the previous ones I hadn't listened to yet was entitled "Belonging to God." And in it they quote from "Belonging to God: A First Catechism," from which I shall quote:

Question 1. Who are you?
I am a child of God.

Question 2. What does it mean to be a child of God?
That I belong to God, who loves me.

Question 3. What makes you a child of God?
Grace -- God's free gift of love that I do not deserve and cannot earn.

Man, I tear up just retyping that. It's such a powerful, needed message. Our worth isn't from anything we've done or even could do. It's not from who loves us or who we love. It comes from the simple fact that we come from God and he is our father and we bear his image and his love. Identity in God is great, but knowing that we are God's sons and daughters is the message that our world doesn't know and needs to hear.

Oh yeah, a funny thing happened in January, I became engaged. And then embroiled in that necessary evil called wedding planning. But I'll wrap that up when I get to October. :)

Then you get February through June, a relatively quiet time that was professionally wrapped up in preparing for Jamaica and personally wrapped up in wedding planning and a sudden new hobby: WWII reenacting. Reenacting is just another one of my obsessive hobbies that I switch around every few years. It's sad to say but it may not last more than a couple years. Can't really say for sure. Comic book reading is coming up on its 3rd year though. Anyways, reenacting has taught me more than a little bit about life with God by trying to be someone from 60 years ago but someone who is still thoroughly a modern person living in a modern world among modern people.

Pretty early into my reenacting career I came onto the subject of chaplains. I was aware of chaplains and what they do and how they do it but this made me look specifically at WWII chaplains and open myself up to some of their stories. I learned that Chaplains are made of extraordinary stuff and have a very fine line to walk in relating to the men they shepherd in the worst of all human-created scenarios that can create all sorts of internal conflict for a man of God. But I also learned about how Christians need to be chaplains in every group they are in. They need to be of extraordinary strength and courage to living in their circles in the world and be willing to be light and salt. I came to find that in my own reenacting unit there are lots of great guys but I was living a very different life than most of them. I haven't held confession or handed out communion and I'm technically not even our unit's chaplain, but I feel the need to be living my life as God's son among those men and women.

I also had the boots lesson where I learned about the necessity of protecting and beautifying my life with exposure to God. That's a lesson I still need some learning on. But, truth be told, my boots aren't as good as they could be either :P

Then there's July, a month I was simultaneously dreading and looking forward to. Jamaica and Montreat at breakneck pace. I survived both but secretly enjoyed Jamaica way more than Montreat. Jamaica definitely had its lessons though. I remember great conversations with the youth group there about living in Christian community and seeing that start to happen as the lessons God showed me began to sink in as I tried to teach them. But coming out of Jamaica I realized the power and freedom to be found in being happy with less. Even now as I think about the article I wrote for Relevant and all the talking I did, the lessons seemed to have dimmed as Lisa and I bowed to the Christmas monster and I now have a text messaging plan and I start to shrug off all the things I was doing without mainly in the name of saving for the wedding. Or the contradiction of wanting to be content with less but my two main hobbies, reenacting and comics, are about hoarding. So obviously I have a ways to go there and this reminder helped!

August met September and then September met October in a rush of expectations as the wedding finally arrived! It was seriously one of the best weekends of my young life, and for many reasons. Mostly because it went off without a hitch and that's thanks to so many people. I was seriously worried with my voice gone, a pastor gone, and the ridiculous rains that preceded everything but it all came together. I'm pretty sure I didn't lift a finger that weekend thanks to all the help from everyone involved. It was ridiculous! But in a good way. That was some serious community, as Ben put it in his dLog entry. But it was also great because, hey, I have a great wife. And she is still putting up with me two months later!

And then that's been the big lessons the rest of the year: learning to love. Let's face it, no matter how good you think you are at loving someone it's in your nature to love yourself first and exclusively. The feelings of love come easy at first but the act of loving takes laser-like focus and effort to maintain on a regular basis. Thankfully I'm blessed with a patient wife who sees potential in me that I'm not even aware of. And that's how you know that God is present in our marriage because that's more patience and vision than I think any one human could ever possess ;)

So, all in all, 2007 was a very good year.