Showing posts from August, 2017

Finding God in the Midst of a Natural Disaster

We have all been watching the effects of Hurricane Harvey, which came ashore last Friday evening, bringing devastation to parts of the Texas coast. The storm continued to hover over the region, moving along the coast toward the city of Houston and beyond. It is still with us as I write (from the safety of SE Michigan). I am praying for the folks caught in this disaster, some of whom have lost their lives, while thousands have lost their homes and businesses. I made a small contribution to the relief effort through Week of Compassion, the relief arm of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). I invite you who are reading this to contribute in anyway you can. I trust Week of Compassion, and recommend it (you can contribute by clicking here, and once through click on the donate button). You can read a report from Week of Compassion, written on Monday here.

Adopted (Kelley Nikondeha) -- A Review

ADOPTED: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World. By Kelley Nikondeha. Foreword by Share Claiborne. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2017. Xi + 185 pages.
                The idea of adoption often has a negative connotation. If one is adopted, there is often the stigma of being less than one who is unadopted. As for the mother, questions abound as to why she would give up a child. Yet, adoption is an important biblical concept. If one is a child of God, one is, as Paul suggests, adopted. In Paul’s understanding of things, to be adopted as a child of God makes one a joint heir with Jesus, God’s only begotten. Adoption is a complicated reality, but also one that has personal and theological implications.
So, what does it mean to be adopted? Kelley Nikondeha seeks to answer that question in this very personal and theologically provocative book. Nikondeha brings her own experience to the story, as one who is adopted herself, and who with her husband, has adopted two…

Out of Egypt - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 13A (Exodus 3)

Exodus 3:1-15 Common English Bible (CEB)
Moses was taking care of the flock for his father-in-law Jethro, Midian’s priest. He led his flock out to the edge of the desert, and he came to God’s mountain called Horeb. The Lord’s messenger appeared to him in a flame of fire in the middle of a bush. Moses saw that the bush was in flames, but it didn’t burn up. Then Moses said to himself, Let me check out this amazing sight and find out why the bush isn’t burning up.When the Lord saw that he was coming to look, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!”Moses said, “I’m here.”Then the Lord said, “Don’t come any closer! Take off your sandals, because you are standing on holy ground.” He continued, “I am the God of your father, Abraham’s God, Isaac’s God, and Jacob’s God.” Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God.Then the Lord said, “I’ve clearly seen my people oppressed in Egypt. I’ve heard their cry of injustice because of their slave masters. I know about…

What Use Is God? A Conversation on Uncontrolling Love

I want to invite you share in a video conversation about the nature and purpose of God, especially in response to the reality of evil. What is the nature of God? Do we believe that God is defined primarily by power or by love. I try to take up some of these questions, as I participated last Friday in a 24 hour Facebook Live presentation. The event was connected to the recent publication of the book Uncontrolling Love: Essays Exploring the Love of God with Introductions by Thomas Jay Oord,  (SacraSage Press, 2017).  

In my response to Tom's book, I suggest that it might be read fruitfully in tandem with Richard Beck's book Reviving Old Scratch (Fortress).  Perhaps we would be wise to think of our engagement with the world in participation with the God who is Love as spiritual warfare, with the cross as the defining element. Anyway, watch the video, pick up a copy of the book, read my essay. Take the way of uncontrolling love!

Who Do You Say that I Am? - Sermon for Pentecost 12A

Matthew 16:13-20

Maybe a pollster has called you wanting your opinion on a product, issue or politician. Politicians don’t want their approval numbers to dip under 50%. There’s a problem when your numbers dip below that mark. 
Jesus once took a different kind of poll. What he wanted to know was what people were saying about him. Who did they think he was? The disciples reported that based on what they were hearing, most people thought he was a prophet, like John the Baptist, Elijah, or Jeremiah. It’s interesting that Matthew chose these three prophets, because they all had run-ins with the authorities. John was executed, Elijah was chased out of the country, and Jeremiah was sent into exile. That put Jesus in dangerous company!

Uncontrolling Love -- the Facebook Event

This afternoon at 3 PM EDT, I will be on Facebook Live asking the question: What Use is God?  This is the title of my essay published in the book Uncontrolling Love, which contains responses to Tom Oord's book The Uncontrolling Love of God.  Tom's premise is that God is Love, and thus love is prior power. Using the concept of Essential Kenosis, he asserts that "God's love is necessarily self-giving and other's empowering," which means that because love is prior to power, there are things that God cannot do.  I want to explore this idea, which I embrace, but which raises some questions that I wrestle with. You can read my response by buying the book. You can also listen in at 3 PM, or later as it's posted on my facebook page and probably here as well.
So, to prepare for my presentation, I invite you to watch Tom's introductory presentation from last evening.  Just click on the link below and check it out.  It's 30 minutes long.  Then I'll see …

Conversations on the Uncontrolling Love of God - Facebook Live Event

In his book The Uncontrolling Love of God(IVP2015), theologian Tom Oord offers a vision of God in which love is primary to power. In this vision love is defined as being noncoercive and uncontrolling. It's a different vision of God than the one that starts with God's omnipotence and then works towards love. It's a compelling vision, but it does pose challenges.
Tom's book prompted a wide variety of responses, a number of which were gathered up into the book Uncontrolling Love: Essays Exploring the Love of God with Introductions by Thomas Jay Oord, (SacraSage Press, 2017). I contributed one of the more than 80 essays in this book. It's titled "What Use Is God?" Isn't that intriguing? Well there is an opportunity, beginning this evening, for us to hear from some of the essayists as to their understanding of Tom's vision and our own responses. 
So, for a 24 hour period beginning tonight, Thursday, August 24, at 7 PM EDT, and running through tomorrow…

Basic Christianity (John Stott) -- A Review

BASIC CHRISTIANITY.  Third Edition. By John Stott; Foreword by Rick Warren. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2017. xiii + 160 Pages.
Over the years I’ve had occasion to read and hear John Stott, the late Anglican evangelical preacher and writer. My experience of him was that he was a classical evangelical of an Anglican type, who was similar to some of my seminary professors at Fuller, but a bit more conservative. I had the opportunity to hear him speak at a packed audience at a Presbyterian Church in Santa Barbara. The church brought in both conservative and liberal speakers, so this was a normal occurrence. I don’t remember the message, but I do remember that the church member who accompanied me thought he was fairly conservative. My sense was that Stott was conservative, but generous in his conservativism, which was fairly par for the course among British evangelicals, who are a different breed than many conservative American evangelicals. My experience with him was…

Egypt First - A Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 12A (Exodus)

Exodus 1:8-2:10 Common English Bible (CEB)
1:8 Now a new king came to power in Egypt who didn’t know Joseph. 9 He said to his people, “The Israelite people are now larger in number and stronger than we are. 10 Come on, let’s be smart and deal with them. Otherwise, they will only grow in number. And if war breaks out, they will join our enemies, fight against us, and then escape from the land.” 11 As a result, the Egyptians put foremen of forced work gangs over the Israelites to harass them with hard work. They had to build storage cities named Pithom and Rameses for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they grew and spread, so much so that the Egyptians started to look at the Israelites with disgust and dread. 13 So the Egyptians enslaved the Israelites. 14 They made their lives miserable with hard labor, making mortar and bricks, doing field work, and by forcing them to do all kinds of other cruel work. 15 The king of Egypt spoke to two Hebrew midwives named Shiphrah…

Time to Study History

History is a subject we all take in school. Sometimes it's taught well. Sometimes it's not. Either way, the study of history is often viewed as irrelevant to daily life. History is about the past, and while we're told at times that if we fail to learn the lessons of the past, we're fated to repeat them, I'm not sure that's true, but we can learn a lot from history about context and the way things have evolved. 
Many of the issues of our day have roots in the past, none more serious than the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow, two legacies of our past that are enshrined in monuments remembering and even celebrating the Lost Cause of the Confederacy. These monuments began to emerge in the 1890s as a way of pushing back against gains made by African Americans, putting them in their place. These monuments were accompanied by the reign of terror that was wrought by a resurgent KKK, which not only took on black Americans, but Jews, Catholics, and immigrants from Souther…

The Lost Cause Lost

Hanging on the wall of my study at home is a print of Tom Lovell's The Surrender at Appomattox.  At times I've hung it in my college office and even my church office. It pictures Robert E. Lee signing the surrender document essentially ending the Civil War. In later years, after Lee's death a movement was born known as "The Lost Cause." It was born out of an attempt to reframe the history of the Civil War away from slavery to states rights.  It was also a response to attempts by African Americans to claim rights granted to them by the Constitution, rights that were often denied through Jim Crow laws. It was during the early 20th century and then again during the era of the Civil Rights Movement that statues were erected lionizing Confederate leaders such as Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and Jefferson Davis. Those statues and monuments, many of which stand at the center of city parks or along boulevards around the country are not meant just to honor long dead leaders, …

Pondering Charlottesville

It's now Wednesday. Charlottesville remains a topic of conversation in the country and beyond (I spent a couple of nights in Canada earlier this week and it's interesting to watch coverage of American political life from that vantage point -- let me just say they're concerned that racist nationalism could spill over the border). On Sunday, like many of my colleagues, I condemned white nationalism and called for the church to be a beacon of hope. I knew what needed to be said, I said  it the best I could on short notice, and and my congregation seems to have received it well. I might even say that they expected me to speak to the moment. But where do we go from here? How do we change the rhetoric of our era which is increasingly course and often dehumanizing, a rhetoric that unfortunately has been given cover by the President. 

Divine Providence and Family Reconciliation

Genesis 45:1-15 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
45 Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, “Send everyone away from me.” So, no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence. Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you ma…

Come … Why Do You Doubt? -- A Sermon for Pentecost 10A

Matthew 14:22-33

On a day after White Nationalists gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia to protest the removal of a Confederate monument and declared their intent to take back American for white people; a day after violence broke out in that city leading to the death of one and the injuring of others, when a car rammed into a crowd of counter-protesters; in a week when it seemed as if we are on the brink of nuclear war with North Korea, we gather to worship the God who stands firmly against hate, racism, violence, and the destruction of life. We come here needing to say no to white nationalism and nuclear war. We also come to hear Matthew  invite us to use our spiritual imaginations so we can embrace the “impossible possibilities” of the Bible’s miracle stories, so that we can, as Brian McLaren suggests, “play a catalytic role in co-creating new possibilities for the world of tomorrow” [We Make the Road, p. 97]. It is in the midst of all of this that we attend to the story of Jesus wa…

Uncontrolling Love -- A Book Announcement

I want to take this opportunity to share word of a new book titled Uncontrolling Love: Essays Exploring the Love of God with Introductions by Thomas Jay Oord, (SacraSage Press, 2017). One of the reasons I want to share word about the book is that one of the 80 essays in this book was written by me. It's titled: "What Use Is God?" In this essay I engage the question of evil, asking how a God defined as uncoercive or uncontrolling can help us deal with life.  Below is the description of the book take from Amazon. You can purchase a copy of the book from Amazon by clicking on the image of the cover or by clicking here.
You might want to also follow the Facebook page, where you'll find more information about upcoming conversations about the book, including a 24-hour Facebook Live event covering August 24-25..  My time for a 30 minute reflection is scheduled for Friday, August 25 at 3 PM (EDT).  **** What if God is not in control? And what if this lack of control isn’t becau…

Economy of Care and the Future of the World

With one election out of the way, and a new one in the offering, we will come back to the mantra of the Bill Clinton era -- "it's the economy, stupid." Much of the current debate over immigration, climate change, health care, has economic roots. I don't think that Donald Trump is a true populist, but he  got the votes of many working class Americans who voted for Barack Obama in places like Michigan and Pennsylvania and Ohio. My concern is that both parties are offering economic solutions that are intended to solve 20th century concerns. We're at under 5% unemployment, which is a good number. It's considered full employment. The problem is that we seem intent on bringing back an economy that is no longer feasible. Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders appealed to so-called blue collar manufacturing workers, promising to bring back jobs either through trade policy or immigration policy. The problem is that most unskilled manufacturing jobs are lost not because of i…

Fire and Fury Like the World has Never Seen

As a preacher I am familiar with apocalyptic language. One expression of that language is the promise of fire and brimstone thrown down upon the enemies of God's people. Something of that apocalyptic language came to mind as I heard the President of the United States threaten North Korea with what would appear to be a preemptive nuclear strike against that nation, should it continue to threaten the United States.  Many friends and colleagues have already given their opinion on Facebook and Twitter. I prefer to do my writing on such subjects here on the blog. While I have been reticent to engage in the increasingly negative debates that are tearing at the fabric of the nation, I thought I should say something.

The Messiness of Divine Providence - A Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 10A

Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28 Common English Bible (CEB) 37 Jacob lived in the land of Canaan where his father was an immigrant. 2 This is the account of Jacob’s descendants. Joseph was 17 years old and tended the flock with his brothers. While he was helping the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives, Joseph told their father unflattering things about them. 3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons because he was born when Jacob was old. Jacob had made for him a long robe. 4 When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of his brothers, they hated him and couldn’t even talk nicely to him.
12 Joseph’s brothers went to tend their father’s flocks near Shechem. 13 Israel said to Joseph, “Aren’t your brothers tending the sheep near Shechem? Come, I’ll send you to them.” 
And he said, “I’m ready.”
14 Jacob said to him, “Go! Find out how your brothers are and how the flock is, and report back to me.” 
So Jacob sent him from the Hebron Valley. When he approached S…

God in the Movies (Robert Johnston & Catherine Barsotti) -- A Review

GOD IN THE MOVIES: AGuide for Exploring Four Decades of Film.Edited by Catherine M. Barsotti and Robert K. Johnston. Foreword by Ralph Winter. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2017. Xxxiii + 264 pages.
                As a preacher, I have been known to refer to a movie or two to illustrate a point. Because I am a fan of both the Star Wars films and all forms of Star Trek—yes, even the first Star Trek movie has its redeeming qualities—I have been known to make special use of imagery from these films and the Star Trek TV series. I know that I am not alone in turning to film and TV for inspiration. While my church isn’t so equipped, I know that many preachers even feature clips in their sermons. So, for now I will remain old school and will make do using my own descriptions, even though I have been known to get things wrong (such mistakes are often pointed out to me afterwards by my son who spent a year in film school). Why do we do this? Because film and TV are now prime carriers of culture…

Everyone Ate Their Fill - A Sermon for Pentecost 9A

Matthew 14:13-21

When we gather at the Lord’s Table each week, we pause to remember the last meal Jesus shared with his disciples, and continues to share with us through the Spirit. Although this meal stands at the center of our faith tradition, the Gospels are filled with stories about Jesus sharing meals with others.  One of these stories involves a meal with more than five thousand guests, who dined on five loaves of bread and two fish, and still everyone ate their fill. 
The “Feeding of the 5000" is the only miracle story that appears in all four Gospels. It’s easy to get caught up in the mechanics of the miracle. Enquiring minds want to know how Jesus did it. Was it a magic trick? Was it a spontaneous potluck? Is it a myth? Despite our inquisitiveness, Matthew doesn’t give any details. Could that mean that the details are irrelevant? Miracle stories, like parables point beyond themselves to the kingdom of God. So, what Matthew wants us to hear is a message about the reign and …

What's this about Immigration restrictions?

I grew up in Oregon, one of the least diverse states in the union. I now live in the most diverse city in Michigan, a city that also claims the largest foreign born population. Troy is a relatively affluent and prosperous city, and the immigrant community contributes greatly to that prosperity. While I enjoyed growing up in Oregon, and may return there some day, I have to say that my life has been enriched greatly by my immigrant friends here in Troy, most of whom hail from Asia or the Middle East. Before coming to Troy, we lived in Santa Barbara, California. My son's high school had a significant Latinx majority. He quite enjoyed that mixture. 
I write this as an introduction to my dismay at today's announcement by the President of his full-throated support of an effort to reduce immigration by 50%, reduce the numbers of refugees admitted, and focus on "merit" rather than family connections. The sponsors of the bill suggest that this needs to be done to support wor…

Beyond the Modern Age (Bob Goudzwaard & Craig Bartholomew) - A Review

BEYOND THE MODERN AGE: An Archaeology of Contemporary Culture. By Bob Goudzwaard and Craig G. Bartholomew. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2017. Xi + 313 pages.
The eighteenth century brought us the Enlightenment and modernity, with the promise that reason, along with science and technology, would make life better, that it would solve our problems. The truth is, in some ways, life is better. As I sit here at my computer, in an air-conditioned house, I surely do not wish to go back and live in the seventeenth century. However, reason didn’t solve all our problems. In fact, “progress” is a mixed blessing. That may be why many have turned to forms of postmodernism, because it seemed to free us from the shackles of a rather gray and confining mechanical world view.  But, in the age of alternative facts, perhaps the promise of postmodernity has proven problematic. I'm not a philosopher, but how should we understand our age, and where it seems to be leading?
Beyond the Modern Age offer…

A Divine Wrestling Match - Lectionary Reflection for Pentecost 9A (Genesis 32)

Genesis 32:22-31 Common English Bible (CEB) 22 Jacob got up during the night, took his two wives, his two women servants, and his eleven sons, and crossed the Jabbok River’s shallow water. 23 He took them and everything that belonged to him, and he helped them cross the river. 24 But Jacob stayed apart by himself, and a man wrestled with him until dawn broke. 25 When the man saw that he couldn’t defeat Jacob, he grabbed Jacob’s thigh and tore a muscle in Jacob’s thigh as he wrestled with him. 26 The man said, “Let me go because the dawn is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I won’t let you go until you bless me.”  27 He said to Jacob, “What’s your name?” and he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then he said, “Your name won’t be Jacob any longer, but Israel, because you struggled with God and with men and won.”  29 Jacob also asked and said, “Tell me your name.”  But he said, “Why do you ask for my name?” and he blessed Jacob there. 30 Jacob named the place Peniel, “because I’ve seen God face-to-face, and my life…